Johnson Cites Race in Obama’s Surge

Jim Morrill, Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, April 15, 2008

Wading back into the Democratic presidential race, billionaire businessman Bob Johnson said Monday that Sen. Barack Obama would not be his party’s leading candidate if he were white.

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“What I believe Geraldine Ferraro meant is that if you take a freshman senator from Illinois called ‘Jerry Smith’ and he says I’m going to run for president, would he start off with 90 percent of the black vote?” Johnson said. “And the answer is, probably not. . . .”

“Geraldine Ferraro said it right. The problem is, Geraldine Ferraro is white. This campaign has such a hair-trigger on anything racial . . . it is almost impossible for anybody to say anything.”

Johnson, who made a fortune after founding Black Entertainment Television and now owns the Charlotte Bobcats, is a longtime friend of Clinton and her husband, the former president.

It was during a January appearance for the New York senator in Columbia that he first stepped into controversy, referring to Obama and “what he was doing in the neighborhood.”

Many took that as a reference to Obama’s acknowledged drug use in his youth. But in a statement, Johnson said he’d been “referring to Barack Obama’s time spent as a community organizer and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect.”

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“I make a joke about Obama doing drugs (and it’s) ‘Oh my God, a black man tearing down another black man’,” Johnson said.

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Johnson disputed the notion that Obama has built a broad coalition. Most of his support, he said, comes from African Americans and white liberals but not white, working-class Democrats.

“I don’t think he has that common—what I call ‘I-want-to-go-out-and-have-a-drink-with-you—touch,” Johnson said.

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Johnson said Obama is likely to win the nomination and has had the support of “the liberal media.”

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