As Campaign Heats Up, Democrats Focus on Racism

“I’m not saying that this is because Holder is black, and I’m not calling [Republicans] racists. I’m saying what they’re doing has a racial effect, and that’s what we’re going to talk about.”

-- MSNBC host and racial activist Al Sharpton in an interview with The Hill, previewing an event today in which black leaders will denounce the pending House resolution to find Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for failing to turn over documents.

When House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi last week said that a Republican desire to keep minorities from voting was the reason lawmakers were dogging Attorney General Eric Holder over secret documents related to the murder of a Border Patrol agent with weapons lost in a botched gunrunning sting, it was a bit puzzling.

The former speaker of the House is sometimes guilty of excited utterance, and certainly accusing one’s colleagues in Congress of trumping up a contempt charge in order to allow states to disenfranchise minority votes was a charge so monstrous that Power Play expected to see it walked back in subsequent days.

But it has not been walked back, and today it will be run forward by a trio of prominent Democrats: Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous, the head of the NAACP, and Marc Morial, the head of the Urban League.

More On This...

    While Sharpton is trying to say that the House Republicans are not intentionally violating the civil rights of black voters by ensnaring Holder in the unrelated case, Pelosi was very straightforward.

    “They’re going after Eric Holder because he is supporting measures to overturn these voter-suppression initiatives in the states,” she told reporters.

    Consider the magnitude of that accusation. She is saying that her replacement as speaker, John Boehner, and his fellow Republicans are willing co-conspirators with governors and state legislators who passed laws she says are intended to keep poor minorities from voting.

    One wonders why Pelosi isn’t acting even more alarmed. If Republicans were capable of such corruption and evil intent, shouldn’t she be occupying the floor like Mr. Smith and demanding an end to such iniquity?

    The fact that Pelosi made the charge so offhandedly suggests that there may be more here about spin than sincere outrage.

    While President Obama has usually worked hard in office to downplay his African ancestry, save incidents like his embracing of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and Harvard Professor Skip Gates, Holder has taken a particular focus on racial issues.

    When he started his job, Holder famously called the United States “a nation of cowards” on the subject of race. Since then he has been at war with states and municipalities over what he says are a growing number of efforts to suppress the civil rights of minorities, particularly as it relates to voter identification and efforts to expel illegal immigrants.

    This is all coming to a head with Holder’s effort to stop Florida from purging non-citizens from its voting rolls and out in Arizona where Holder’s agency is trolling for civil rights complaints about a state law that requires police to determine the immigration status of those they detain on other offenses.

    The Florida case is huge because as the state seesaws between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney we see the chance for fraudulent votes or suppressed votes to be very consequential in a state that knows something about close presidential elections.

    But Arizona is the big one for Democrats. Within hours of a Supreme Court decision allowing Arizona to proceed with that most controversial part of the law, the Obama administration had made clear that federal immigration officials would not work with local law enforcement officials to detain or deport illegal immigrants.

    Holder’s part in this is to have a hotline and an email account to encourage any minority who feels that they were unfairly singled out because of their appearance. Holder would be very pleased, no doubt, the have Arizona back in court as soon as possible.

    There is also the hope among Democrats that Romney, who is obliquely supportive of the Arizona law, will be forced to defend the law in the face of a heart-rending story from Arizona, e.g.: “the woman, a third-generation Arizonan was detained by police and missed her graduation, which would have been the first in her family.”

    Liberal commentators have been honing in on Romney’s whiteness, which is quite considerable. Casting him as one who favors a nation in which dark-skinned people are randomly stopped on the street and asked for their papers would be ideal for Obama Democrats. On one side would be Obama, giver of temporary amnesty to young, deserving illegal immigrants, on the other would be racial profiling vampire Romney.

    And Democrats believe that if they can hold Romney under 40 percent with Hispanic voters, they can squeeze Obama into another term.

    Holder’s record certainly suggests he is sincere in his belief that white conservatives are actively trying to oppress minorities. This does not look like spin from him. This looks like a crusade, not a campaign trick.

    But from Pelosi and others there is a strong emanation of political gamesmanship leading up to this eventual question: If it is racist to hold Eric Holder in contempt, isn’t it also racist to vote Barack Obama out of office?

    Remember, many the moderate suburbanites who will decide this election were very proud of themselves for voting for Obama. They seem very interested in Mitt Romney’s CEO-style approach, but if Democrats can turn that 2008 pride into 2012 guilt, Obama might hold on to enough to win a second term.

    But here’s the problem with racializing the election for Democrats: blue-collar white voters. With these voters, charges of racism don’t sit well, especially if the charges are related to allowing foreigners into the United States to work, even as the job market remains rotten.

    The more Democrats focus on race, the more these voters will get turned off. And just as Romney has to hold on to some of the Hispanic vote, Obama can’t afford to get schneidered with blue-collar whites.

    Looking at national polls as well as the trends in places like Pennsylvania and Michigan, it suggests that Obama is reaching a crisis point with these folks who once formed the bulwark of the Democratic coalition.

    There’s cause for concern as it relates to upscale voters too. As Pelosi proved with what should have been a jaw-dropping accusation against House Republicans, charges of racism too often repeated lose their sting.

    The Day in Quotes

    "You know, it's fashionable right now for people to be cynical. We go in cycles like this and right now a lot of people are saying ‘Oh, America is doing terribly’ and ‘What are we going to do?’”

    -- President Obama campaigning in New Hampshire.

    “[T]o say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.”

    -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent from the decision affirming in part and rejecting in part Arizona’s tough anti-illegal-immigration law.

    “I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court give more latitude to the states, not less. And there are states now under this decision have less authority, less latitude to enforce immigration laws.”

    -- Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talking to donors at a Scottsdale, Ariz. fundraiser.

    “In recent days, in anticipation of this decision, I issued a new executive order asking that this training be made available once again to all of Arizona's law enforcement officers. I am confident our officers are prepared to carry out this law responsibly and lawfully. Nothing less is acceptable.”

    -- Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., in a statement announcing her intention to proceed with enforcement of her state’s immigration law despite federal threats of civil rights charges against officers and agencies accused of racial profiling.

    “I shouldn't be asked because I don't want to run for office.”

    -- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” discussing her potential to be Mitt Romney’s running mate.

    “And finally, let me just say that somebody who I genuinely consider a brother -- I don't mean that in the vernacular…”

    -- President Obama at a Boston fundraiser acknowledging Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is a black man.

    And Now, A Word From Charles

    “I think ultimately this is going to be a wash, the ruling today will be a wash, I think, because it's a mixed one.  I don't think it has a political impact.  

    The political impact was Obama's unilateral implementation of the DREAM Act, which was a coup among Hispanics.  But I think people are overlooking the fact that two to one among non-Hispanic Americans, they favor the law in Arizona.  And I think standing up on this issue and requiring that the administration administer the law in carrying it out will carry a lot of whites, which will offset Hispanics.  I think ultimately it's a wash.”  

    -- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

    Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at