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Commentary: Ignoring white Dems in S. Carolina isn't smart

  • Story Highlights
  • Roland S. Martin: Pundits have slanted their focus on state's primary voters
  • Similar irresponsible focus is likely February 5 in other Southern states, he says
  • Analysis of white vote could help show what may happen in other states, he says
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor
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(CNN) -- Ever since we got into the thick of the presidential race, reporters, anchors, pundits, columnists and writers have spent a considerable amount of time on the fact that nearly 50 percent of the people who will vote in the South Carolina primary are black.

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Roland S. Martin says that in some respects, there's a blackout when it comes to talking to white voters.

Considering you have a black male candidate -- he's really half white (mom) and half Kenyan (dad), but identifies himself as African-American -- and a white woman -- who is the wife of a former president beloved by black folks -- leading the pack for the Democratic nomination, everyone has been waiting to see how this fight will turn out.

But for the life of me, I don't understand -- and have been literally screaming this fact on CNN, on my Chicago, Illinois, radio show and on every possible platform I have -- how we can focus on blacks making up nearly 50 percent of the voters, and absolutely, positively, unequivocally ignore the other 50 percent!

Being a black man, I don't mind talking about the nuances of black politics -- I've run three black newspapers, a black Web site and been the news editor of a national black magazine -- but I can also count. And to suggest that white voters are immaterial in South Carolina is nuts.

It has been so stunning that I can't even recall the last time I've seen journalists spend a lot of time interviewing whites. The stories have focused on black preachers, the tough choice facing black women, and whether young black voters come to the polls.

In some respects, there's a blackout when it comes to talking to white voters.

One of the reasons for this seeming disparity is that this is the first state where black voters will play such a critical role. And in the next two months, we're likely to see a similar focus in Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee, where black voters range from 20 percent to 50 percent of the Democratic electorate.

But this is a dangerous game to play, because it's wrong to ignore half of the electorate in a state. We also should be analyzing the white vote to better understand about what may happen in other states.

With that in mind, I reached out to CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, and he shot me an e-mail with the results of an ARG poll taken January 17-18. That poll revealed that among whites, Clinton is attracting 56 percent of the vote in South Carolina; Obama, 20 percent; and Edwards is polling at 16 percent.

For African-Americans, Obama is receiving 73 percent, and Clinton is at 16 percent.

So what does this tell us? First, while Obama is running a campaign that isn't based on race, and is trying to connect with people across the political spectrum, this first Southern state test shows that he isn't even reaching one-third of white voters. Edwards being in the race could be a big reason, but his support could conceivably go to Clinton.

He did far better in Nevada -- Clinton received 52 percent to Obama's 34 percent -- but when it comes to winning the South, he's going to have to do more to appeal to these voters if he wants to win enough delegates for the nomination.

Not every state moving forward has such significant black support as South Carolina. Sure, he won Iowa. But geography plays a role in how people vote, and the people of Georgia or Nebraska may not see Obama the same as those in Iowa.

And when we go further inside the numbers, we discover that Clinton has a man problem. She doesn't poll well among men -- black or white -- which means she's even more reliant on women to get her the nomination or the general election.

A lot of voters have told us that they don't care about race or gender; that the issues trump everything. Sorry, the numbers just don't lie. When large numbers of women, African-Americans, whites or Hispanics fall to one candidate, then there's something about that group that's choosing the candidate. The issues could be the decider, but race or gender could also be at play.

At the end of the day, our job is to delve into every aspect of the campaign, and go where the numbers take us. And to give short shrift to white voters, who make up half of a state party's vote total, means that we aren't living up to our responsibility.

In the words of Paul Harvey, it's time for "the rest of the story."

Roland S. Martin is a national award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying for his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he's the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at www.rolandsmartin.com/.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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