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Suddenly, Johnny Mac’s a contender

Fasten your seat belts and hang on to your chads, folks. It looks like we’re headed toward another razor-thin presidential election.

Now, I have to admit that two weeks ago I would have been hard pressed to come up with a scenario that resulted in Sen. John McCain (or any Republican, for that matter) winning the White House this year. But thanks to recent breathtaking gaffes by the two Democratic candidates — coupled with an eye-gouging Democratic primary exacerbated by a totally screwed up Democratic Party rule book — Johnny Mac is now a serious contender.

First, Sen. Barack Obama suffered a “pastor disaster” when national attention focused on his longtime minister and mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The snippets of video on the Rev. Wright make him look downright un-American and bigoted.

I’ll make a leap of faith and tell you I suspect the Rev. Wright is neither. I don’t think in this day and age the leader of a large Christian organization (black or white) can deliver a predominantly racist and anti-American message and expect to stay in that position of leadership for very long.

But my opinion’s not the point. In the world of politics, perception is reality. And the perception those videos cultivate has rubbed off on Obama. People will reasonably ask: How could a man who says it is primarily his good judgment that makes him presidential timber, possibly have remained an active, tithing member of a church for 20 years with the Rev. Wright in the pulpit?

The “pastor disaster” became so intense that Obama belatedly felt compelled to deliver a major speech on the topic.

I thought Obama did an inspirational job. While he didn’t quell every ember of discontent, he did slow the flames enough to earn the Democratic nomination.

But let’s remember one thing: Democrats are easy to snow, especially on matters of race, where they remain stuck in their self-doubting navel-gazing. As a result, Democratic officials and “super” delegates will never, ever fully vet Obama on the issue.

Independent and Republican voters, however, have moved far beyond Democrats when it comes to honestly discussing matters of race. They’re not nearly so self-conscious that they can’t demand a much better explanation from Obama on the questions raised by the Rev. Wright’s comments. Therefore, Obama will have to revisit the issues raised by his mentor in the context of a general election. For example, why is it that Americans must “understand” or “excuse” or “place into context” hate speech when spoken by a black leader?

By refusing to fully reject and disassociate himself from the Rev. Wright, Obama opened a hole in his general election defense that Republicans will surely exploit ths fall.

Second, Sen. Clinton spent all of last week looking absolutely foolish when she puffed up her “experience” in foreign affairs by telling a tall tale of how she and Chelsea once had to duck sniper fire and run for cover when landing in war-torn Bosnia.

When challenged on her story by others who were on the flight, Clinton (as only a Clinton can do) ridiculed her critics and insisted in no uncertain terms that her story was exactly how it happened.

Then CBS News produced the video of the Bosnia landing. It showed clearly and with zero doubt that Hillary’s tale was false. No sniper fire. No canceled ceremony. No mad dash for cover.

Some call all of this a lie. Her campaign first said she was referring to sniper fire “in the hills” and later said she simply “misremembered.” Hillary, when faced with visual proof, said she “erred” because of the immense stress of the campaign.

I call it delusion.

She believed with all her heart her Bosnia tale and told it so often it became truth to her, just as she does when she says her time as first lady qualifies her for the presidency, or that she’s never played the race card against Obama or that she can still somehow win the nomination for president.

However you choose to explain her Bosnia tale, this gross embellishment of the truth undercuts much of what her candidacy is about. It erodes what little credibility she had as a candidate, and if she finds a way to steal the nomination, she’ll pay a high price in the context of a more intense general election.

So now, all of a sudden, “Lucky John” McCain and the Republican Party are back in the game.

Emboldened Republicans think McCain will now win decisively because polls show him surging and easily beating both Obama and Clinton.

Democrats, meanwhile, (including our own Sen. Harry Reid), argue that once they select their nominee, Democrats will give each other a group hug, stop the hate, and join together to win the White House.

Neither’s right. Look for another very close presidential election, thanks mostly to missteps by Sen. Obama and the inability of Sen. Clinton to distinguish between viability and vindictiveness.

Vindictive? Do you think that’s too hard a word to use on Hillary? Before answering, consider the poll last week that showed 28 percent of Clinton supporters will vote for McCain if she loses to Obama. Democrats, repeat after me:

Uh-oh.

Sherman Frederick (sfrederick@ reviewjournal.com) is president of Stephens Media and publisher of the Review-Journal.

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