Obama and race on the Range

DLF headquarters in Hibbing, Minn.
Hibbing is a DFL stronghold, but party officials say they're hearing concern about Barack Obama's race on the Iron Range.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

On the sidewalk along Howard Street in downtown Hibbing Rick Cannada freely acknowledged Barack Obama's race is an issue for many voters on the Iron Range.

"Oh yeah, we hear a lot of that," he said. "Just the race color basically that's the main thing. People up here they're afraid to elect someone that's not a Caucasian. That's basically all you hear."

Cannada was wearing a bright orange union Obama t-shirt. And Cannada was predicting record voter turnout in support of the Obama-Biden ticket, despite all of talk.

"People up here they're afraid to elect someone that's not a Caucasian. That's basically all you hear."

Last week the DFL office in Hibbing was bustling with activity in anticipation of an appearance by 8th District DFL Congressman Jim Oberstar and Senate candidate Al Franken.

Although Oberstar was appearing with Franken, he spent most of his time talking about presidential politics. Oberstar told the rally that Harry Truman, John Kennedy and even Walter Mondale won Minnesota because of strong turnout on the Iron Range.

"And now we stand at another precipice, another turning point of history when our votes on the Iron Range are going to make the difference," he said. "We're going to need that 90 plus percent voter turn out."

Listening to Oberstar was mine worker Mike Maleska who said there's been a lot of misinformation about Barack Obama on the Iron Range, particularly about Obama's gun control position.

Hibbing residen Mike Maleska
Hibbbing resident Mike Maleska is a mine worker who backs Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Last week the husband of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was in northeastern Minnesota making an appeal to hunters.

Maleska said there's been plenty of talk about Obama's race, especially early on. But he expects Obama's positions on the issues will override any hesitation people have about race.

"I hear a lot of that, but I think what goes on in the privacy of the booth is what's really going to drive this and people don't usually discuss those things openly," he said. "Some do, and I think some people will voice those you know, 'I ain't voting for no this or I ain't voting for no that,' just to get a rise out of you."

The head of the Democratic Party on the range, 5th Senate district DFL chair Kathy Daniels said there's no question that some solid Democrats in her area are uncomfortable about a black presidential candidate.

5th Senate DFL Chair Kathy Daniles
Senate District 5 DFL Chair Kathy Daniels says it helps when politicians like Rep. Jim Oberstar talk about how important the Iron Range is to an Obama victory.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

"Well people talk, and you've got an older community on the Iron Range and they believe it should be a white person," she said.

Daniels and others say it helps to have politicians like Oberstar promote Obama's candidacy. Daniels said having Hillary Clinton make the argument in person on the range should go a long way toward bringing Democrats together despite the hesitations some have.

Long time political analyst Wy Spano teaches at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He said he does not view Clinton's visit as some kind of desperate move by the Obama campaign to shore up the range out of concern that Obama's race is hurting him with voters.

Instead Spano said Clinton's appearance is intended to rally DFLers to make sure they hit the polls.

"That people talk about that, especially people managing campaigns, sure, I'll admit that," he said. "But I don't agree that it's a real issue."

Before her evening rally in Hibbing, Hillary Clinton will be at the University of Minnesota for a stop promoting DFL Senate candidate Al Franken's campaign.

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