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Professors weigh Democrats’ obstacles to winning

Lindsay Sena | Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In a Democratic presidential race that will most likely produce either a black or a woman nominee, Notre Dame political science professors are debating which is more electable.

Professor Darren Davis said while America is not completely ready for either, conditions in the country make it possible.

“America is not ready for just any woman or any black person,” said Davis, who specializes in public opinion and political psychology. “You can’t run just any woman and think they would do as well as [Hillary] Clinton.

“There are unique features about Clinton and [Barack] Obama that make both of them extremely appealing, but I think it would be a mistake to think that just because they’re both doing well in the primaries that America is ready for a black president.”

Still, the current political climate gives the two candidates a chance, Davis said.

“We’re at war; the economy and the particular features of Clinton and Obama makes it right,” he said.

Despite the factors working in Clinton and Obama’s favor, Christina Wolbrecht, who specializes in American politics and political parties, said she thinks the two candidates need to pay attention to how they market themselves to the public.

“I think both candidates are walking a fine line where you want to appeal to people of all races or genders,” Wolbrecht said. “You need to be a president who is going to represent and serve the entire population.”

Dianne Pinderhughes, whose teaching focuses on racial and ethnic politics in the U.S., as well as voting rights policy and American urban politics, said that may be the case, but the candidates do appeal to certain groups of people.

She said she sees Clinton as a candidate who “appeals to women as a group, across racial lines.”

“Generally, women respond to her candidacy in a positive way,” she said. “In terms of how [gender] hurts her, men tend not to support her strongly. It’s almost as if they’re judging that it’s not appropriate to have a woman as a president.”

Wolbrecht agreed, noting the stereotypes associated with the female gender.

“When people look at candidates and they see a woman they make certain assumptions, consciously or unconsciously, whether negative or positive,” Wolbrecht said.

Women may seem less corrupt or more experienced in health care and education, Wolbrecht said, but less qualified in areas like economics.

Davis said while Clinton’s gender could help her, Obama’s race could hurt him.

“Race is never an advantage to begin with,” Davis said. “There have been people who talk about race helping him, but race is still an incredible disadvantage within American society.”

Clinton and Obama have referred to themselves in different ways throughout the campaign, Davis said.

“Whereas in several debates, Clinton has referred to herself as the first female candidate for a presidential nomination, Obama never frames or considers himself to be a black person running for president,” Davis said.

Davis said he is unsure how Clinton referring to herself as the first female candidate will impact her campaign, but said Obama would hurt his campaign if he brought up his race.

Pinderhughes pointed out the conflict within Obama’s campaign over his race.

“Some of his campaign managers want him to deemphasize his race, some of his black campaign aids want him to address the black community,” she said. “So that is a tension for him, in terms of strategy.”

Overall, Pinderhughes said, more people are ready for a black male president than a female president.

“It seems as if people are more able to say ‘yes, I think we’re ready for an African-American man to be president,'” she said. “[Americans] can handle a male across race better than they can handle a female, who is also white. So in this case, gender trumps race.”