Ask Tim Dickinson: A Woman in the White House?

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DirtyDennis asks: Why isn't anyone asking the obvious? Let's not dance around it: Is there a realistic chance for a black or a woman to win the presidential election?

Dear Dennis: Your question really has two parts. A) Is America ready for a blackor woman president? And B) Is America ready for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

The answer to A is an unequivocal yes. There's clearly a majority of Americans who would unhesitatingly vote for an otherwise qualified candidate who happened to be a woman or an African American. But the rub is that overwhelming majority is split among the parties. So that Republicans who might comfortably vote for Condi Rice certainly aren't going to vote for Obama or Clinton.

My point is that party and ideological orientation are far more powerful factors in securing the White House than race or gender in 2008. Imagine for a second if Colin Powell had never served in the Bush White House, were thus untainted by the Iraq war, and were the Democratic nominee. Experience, off-the-charts national security credentials. He'd win in a landslide.

Yes, clearly, there's a subset of voters who would vote against either Hillary or Barack just on the basis of bias. But 2008 is shaping up to be a magnificent year to be a Democrat — the kind of wave election that can overcome all sorts of built-in disadvantages.

Larry Sabato, a veteran handicapper, thinks Hillary needs the biggest boost: "Hillary is going to get the generic Democratic vote minus about 5 percent. That is to say, a Democrat will have to be heading toward a landslide for Hillary to win. Narrowly."

Does the same go for Obama? "I'm still wondering about," says Sabato. "I know he's stronger than Hillary. Race is a plus or a minus — it can help you more than it can hurt you if you play it right. He's the equivalent of putting a badge on a white suburbanite and the badge says 'I'm not a racist; I voted for Obama."