A top campaign strategist to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has identified blacks as the Democratic presidential candidate's "base," suggesting that Obama can mobilize unregistered black voters to the polls like no other Democrat in the 2008 race.
"I think he has a strong base in the African-American community that in some states is going to be very, very helpful," David Axelrod, Obama's senior campaign strategist, told journalist Linda Douglass in the latest issue of the National Journal magazine.
"No one brings the kind of background and history that he does," he told Douglass. "No one brings, I think the sense of identification with people who are struggling to be heard."
The comments may be the campaign's strongest language to date about the 2008 race's only black candidate's ability to attract black voters in early primary voting states like South Carolina, where about half of Democratic primary voters are black.
"I think [Obama] will put states in play that no other [Democrat] can put in play," said Axelrod. "There is no doubt that the energy and enthusiasm in the African-American community will give us a chance in some Southern states where there is a high number of African-American voters, and some who are not necessarily registered to vote."
The campaign of Obama's biggest '08 rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. disagrees that blacks will vote en masse for Obama.
"African-American women are going to be her strongest base," said Traci Otey Blunt, Clinton's director of black outreach. "It's the African-American mom that is going to see her record. Sen. Clinton has 35 years of experience advocating civil rights issues, speaking for children in the Senate and expanding opportunities for American-owned businesses."
The Clinton campaign maintains she has had a "spurt of support" among black voters. They point to an "African American Men for Hillary" luncheon in Washington, D.C., July 26 that drew 200 black men to hear Clinton speak.
During the luncheon the campaign unveiled a video endorsement by influential Grammy-award winning music producer and prominent activist Quincy Jones.
Clinton has also been endorsed by famed author and poet Maya Angelou. Meanwhile, Obama has won the endorsement of philanthropist and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
However, many high-profile black leaders have yet to endorse either of the leading candidates, including South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Cyburn, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential black politicians in the state, civil rights activist Georgia Congressman John Lewis and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Some Democratic strategists suggest Clinton may have an edge over Obama among black voters because of the popularity of her husband, former President Clinton.
"If Clinton was the first black president, she was married to him," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore's 2000 presidential bid. Brazile is the first African-American to head a presidential campaign.
Brazile, an ABC News analyst unaffiliated with any '08 Democratic campaign, said many blacks are leaning toward Clinton because she's well known and has had a long history of supporting issues like civil rights and health care.
However, Brazile said, "Clinton knows there's another candidate on the block."