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Is black America ready to embrace Obama?

Story Highlights

• In a new poll, Obama leads Clinton 44 to 33 percent among black voters
• Some blacks doubt that Obama understands their experience
• Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, is the Senate's only black member
• Polls say blacks are less likely to believe America is ready for a black president
From Candy Crowley and Sasha Johnson
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In recent months, ABC News-Washington Post polls showed Sen. Hillary Clinton running 40 points higher than Sen. Barack Obama among blacks voters asked to name their preference in the Democratic primary.

But in Wednesday editions, the Washington Post reported a poll that has Obama leading Clinton by 11 points among black voters -- 44 percent to 33 percent. Obama is the Senate's only black member and has been campaigning across the country for the last couple of months. Clinton is his chief rival for the 2008 presidential nomination

That change represents a stunning 24-point swing, but does it mean the black community has embraced the Illinois Democrat as its candidate?

Not exactly.

"Obama does have a plurality of black voters right now. He doesn't have a majority yet," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "That means a majority of blacks still aren't sure about him.

"Forty-four percent favor him. That's certainly good news for him, but I think the Obama camp would like to see that be significantly higher."

Among blacks, Obama's favorables are high (70 percent), but Clinton's are higher (85 percent). Plus, Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have deep roots in the black community.

Blacks, in part, may be slow to warm to the candidacy of Obama because, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll suggests, they are less likely than whites to believe that America is ready for a black president.

The poll, conducted December 5-7, 2006, found that 65 percent of whites thought America was ready, compared with 54 percent of blacks. The poll's margin of error was plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.

George Wilson, the host of XM Radio's "GW on the Hill," hears doubts about Obama all the time from his black audience.

"There is this doubt 'But is America ready for a black president?' " Wilson told CNN. "And the overall consensus from my callers is that America is not ready for an African-American president."

Even at a rally for Obama in South Carolina you hear it:

"I'm being honest," Akyshia Gantt, an African-American, said. "No, I think -- which is bad -- that America is not ready for that, but I don't think they are."

Part of Obama's problem with black voters is that he is viewed by whites as the first black candidate with a legitimate shot at the White House.

"When white America has embraced a candidate -- as they have with Barack Obama -- there is a certain amount of distrust that goes with this among a number of African Americans," Wilson said

In an interview with National Public Radio, Obama acknowledged the dynamic:

"In the history of African-American politics in this country there has always been some tension between speaking in universal terms and speaking in very race-specific terms about the plight of the African-American community," Obama said. "By virtue of my background, I am more likely to speak in universal terms."

Obama suffers, in part, because voters are not familiar with him and there is doubt whether the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, who was raised in Hawaii and educated in elite schools, can relate to the black American experience.

This has been described as "not black enough," a notion and a phrase that Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who is a noted civil rights leader, rejects.

"I don't think he has any of the hang-ups that a lot of people that are victims of segregation and racial discrimination tend to have," Lewis said. "I think he's free of it, and he's running as an American citizen." (Watch Rep. Lewis on Sen. Obama's candidacy Video)

Forty-two years ago this Sunday, Lewis was beaten in the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama -- a day that became known as "Bloody Sunday." Now, 43 African-Americans serve on Capitol Hill, and thousands of black politicians serve nationwide.

Time has made Lewis a true believer.

"In the depth of my heart, I believe it is possible for Sen. Obama to become president of the United States," Lewis said. "I think the American people are prepared to take that great leap. They're prepared to lay down the burden of race."

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that African-American support for Sen. Barack Obama has increased significantly.



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