The Role of Race–Maybe Not So Much

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Gallup has some interesting new data. And in the dead-tree TIME that hits newsstands tomorrow, our colleague David Von Drehle’s cover story has yet another perspective, this one from the ground in Missouri:

I soon gathered that six of the eight adults standing in that driveway planned to vote for Obama in November. Their support ranged from enthusiastic to reluctant. And of course, there’s nothing scientific about one driveway. But I heard similar things throughout my trip. Among white voters, Obama appeared to be rising on a pile of empty wallets. Many folks in Lincoln County shared that impression.

“Who do you think will win around here?” I asked.

“Obama,” Robbie Haggard answered flatly, and several others agreed.

“But Missouri’s always been Republican,” Pyle protested.

“I think Missouri’s had about enough,” Holly Haggard said.

Some hard data support that reaction. A recent poll of 1,024 Missouri voters, sponsored by Time and CNN, found that Obama’s standing in the Show-Me State has improved significantly in the past month. A must-win state for John McCain’s campaign–once considered fairly safe–is now a virtual tie, with the momentum going in Obama’s direction. That’s not something that can be accomplished solely with the support of liberals and minorities–not in Missouri. Here in the borderland between North and South, between East and West, between rich and poor, between city and farm, any would-be President must stay competitive among white voters of modest and middle incomes.

There’s still time to change again, for doubts to resurface, for suspicions to harden. And voters may say one thing to pollsters and do another in the voting booth. Yet at this late stage of the campaign, after dozens of interviews across this toss-up state, evidence suggests that the issue that once seemed as if it would dominate this election — Obama’s race — is not consuming the people who will actually decide.