By Michael Barone
As Barack Obama makes his slow but steady way toward the Democratic nomination, the assumption in the admiring precincts of the press corps is that voters have dismissed as irrelevant his longtime association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But that may prove as mistaken as the assumption, back in 1988, that voters would not be impressed by Michael Dukakis's 11-year support of a law granting weekend furloughs to convicts sentenced to life without parole, an issue brought up in the primaries by Al Gore but largely ignored in press coverage at the time.
Evidence for this comes in the exit polls from the West Virginia and Kentucky primaries on May 13 and 20. In both, about half the voters -- and these are voters in the Democratic primary -- said that they believe Obama shares Wright's views either somewhat or a lot. And slightly under 50 percent of these voters said that Obama is honest and trustworthy.
Which leads me to ask why these voters declined to say Obama is honest. When have they seen him lie or being caught in a lie? The response to the question on Wright may provide the answer. They know that he attended Wright's church for 20 years. They know that he said, both on March 18 when he refused to renounce Wright and on April 29 when he did renounce him, that he was not aware of his pastor and spiritual mentor's incendiary comments. Yet half of these voters also think that, despite those statements, Obama agrees with what Wright has been saying.
Most reporters are liberals, whose circles of friends and acquaintances have included people with views not dissimilar to those of Wright or William Ayers,(picture above) the unrepentant Weather Underground bomber with whom Obama served on a nonprofit board and at whose house his state Senate candidacy was launched. Such reporters don't find these views utterly repugnant or particularly noteworthy. But most American voters do. And they wonder whether a candidate who associates with such people agrees with them -- or disbelieve him when he says he doesn't.
Though most in the press won't admit it, that's a problem -- for the Obama candidacy and for the whole Democratic Party once it nominates him.
Michael Barone, the editor of the Encyclopedia of American Politics is one of the smartest political observers in the country and I trust him a lot more in his analysis than most
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