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Kentucky speaks / Race matters!

To many white voters, race still matters

Rural Kentucky points up a difficult reality for Barack Obama

MUNFORDVILLE, Ky. — Mike Rife is white, a semiretired factory worker with a high school education and a 2-foot-square sign on his lawn that makes friends and neighbors flip him the finger as they drive by.

The sign reads: “Obama for President.”

“I think I almost know what it feels like to be a black guy,” said Rife, his voice gravelly and defiant. “I take heat every day. I got an Obama sticker on my car, and I catch hell for it.”

Munfordville is the seat of Hart County, a rural swath of Kentucky farmland. Its Democrats will vote, and vote hard, for Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s primary. And if Barack Obama goes on to win the nomination, many of those Bluegrass State Democrats say they will vote against him quicker than you can say, “Race doesn’t matter.”

“They won’t vote for a black man,” Rife said of the people he has lived around all his 57 years. “That’s all there is to it. They just can’t bring themselves to do it.”

A walk around this central Kentucky town of 1,600 supports Rife’s opinion. Whether in the Dairy Queen or the dollar store or along the sidewalks of a courthouse square ringed with shuttered businesses, people speak freely of their dislike for the lanky senator from Illinois.

Terry Jordan, 47, who runs a year-round garage sale in front of an old filling station on Main Street, put it simply: “It’s his color.”

A weighty reality

The Munfordvilles of America — and there are many—present a troubling reality for Obama’s campaign, as his lopsided loss in neighboring West Virginia showed. These are the places where lofty talk of transcending race is dragged to earth by a weighty reality that has nothing to do with Obama’s position on the federal gas tax, Clinton’s tenacity on the campaign trail or even the off-putting rants of Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.

“Right now it’s not that Hillary attracts the white vote,” said Jack Bunnell, 79. “It’s that Obama’s black.”

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