Will Affirmative Action Roil '08 Race?

Obama is against ballot initiatives proposed by Connerly, McCain is mum

June 20, 2008— -- Democrat Barack Obama opposes three state ballot measures which would end affirmative action in Colorado, Arizona, and Nebraska. Republican John McCain, by contrast, continues to take no position, according to a campaign spokesperson.

The McCain campaign's reluctance to take a stance after multiple requests from ABC News has led Ward Connerly, the proponent of the measures, to say that the presumptive Republican nominee is missing an opportunity to draw a sharp contrast with his Democratic rival.

"If (McCain) came out and said, 'I believe that our country is at its best when it treats everybody as an equal' . . . and I have read these initiatives and they do precisely that. . . . He puts Sen. Obama in one hell of a spot," Connerly told ABC News.

"Senator Obama has to be careful, as he opposes our initiatives, that he not be seen as an anti-white male kind of candidate," said Connerly. "White males typically vote, probably 70/30 in favor of these initiatives. If Sen. Obama isn't careful, he can get saddled with the impression, the image, of being an angry black man, despite the soothing rhetoric that he uses."

Connerly, who has led efforts which ended race- and gender-based affirmative action in California and Michigan, contributed $500 to Obama's campaign on Feb. 28. He made this donation even though the Illinois Democrat lent his voice to a 2006 radio ad seeking to defeat Connerly's ballot measure in the Wolverine State.

"I really thought that Senator Obama in his heart of hearts would like to get beyond race. He's a multiracial guy," said Connerly, who himself is multi-racial. "Multiracial people understand race in a far more nuanced way than those who are quote 'mono-racial.'"

Obama lost Connerly's backing on June 10 when the Illinois Democrat came out against Connerly's Civil Rights Initiatives in DeWayne Wickham's U.S.A. Today column. The presumptive Democratic nominee wants to continue race-based affirmative action in higher education while also supporting the creation of affirmative action for low-income students regardless of race.

"When I read the column, I felt: that's not triangulating. That probably represents his true belief," said Connerly, referring to Obama.

Connerly's initiative will appear on the November ballot in Colorado, a state which is expected to be closely contested between the presidential candidates. The nation's most prominent affirmative action foe expects voters in Arizona and Nebraska to see similar measures on their general-election ballot once signatures qualify.

Voters in the Rocky Mountain State will also weigh in on an alternative measure which would protect affirmative action. If both measures win majority support, the one with more votes becomes law.

Connerly's initiative reads: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin, in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting."