April 3rd, 2008
09:39 AM ET

Penn. gov. says many whites won't vote for Obama

He said what!!??

That was the reaction many had after hearing what Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said about white voters in his state and Senator Barack Obama.

Gov Ed Rendell
See Randi's report on Gov. Rendell's comments tonight on a special edition of Anderson Cooper 360: Race & Politics at 11p ET

First, you should know, Rendell has endorsed Obama’s opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton. Why?  He said, “If you were having brain surgery and you had one brain surgeon who was considered the greatest, A+, and you had one who was graded A, you could choose either one of them, not pay any more for either one of them, you choose the A+.  Obviously.  And that’s why Hillary Clinton should be our nominee."

But in a meeting with the Pittsburgh Gazette in February, Gov. Rendell said, “You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African American candidate."

Yes, he went there... 


When I interviewed him last week about his remarks for a story for Anderson Cooper 360, he told me, “I was handicapping a race. It’s like saying that NC is gonna beat Duke because it’s taller, they’ve got taller players. Taller players generally get more rebounds than shorter players. I was handicapping a race in a private room. I wasn’t trying to influence, I didn’t think that my comments would ever get into the public domain. If I was trying to influence the race to help Senator Clinton, I would’ve done it at a big rally. It wasn’t intended to be racial.”

I asked him, do you regret saying it? His response: "I had 3 difficult days, sort of to the extent that I regret them. I would have loved to concentrate on my governor’s job. But no, do I think there was anything wrong with them? Absolutely not. No, I told the truth and we’ve got to be able to speak the truth about the race without someone pointing a finger and saying you’re racist- you know, um, we have to be able to speak the truth.”

You can only imagine the firestorm that followed after the Gazette first published his remarks. The head of Philadelphia’s NAACP called the remarks “callous and insensitive.” And Rendell’s former opponent in the Governor’s race, Lynn Swann, an African American, called what the governor said “a subtle form of racism.”

In the past, Gov. Rendell had said that if Lynn Swann had been white, not black, the race for governor may have been closer when they ran against each other.

In all fairness to the governor, the reporter who wrote the article in the Pittsburgh Gazette seemed surprised by the reaction it got. So he wrote another article five days later agreeing with the governor, writing, “Mr. Rendell didn’t “dump” or “strategically plant” his opinion about race in our paper on behalf of the Clinton campaign. We asked him for his opinion and he gave it without equivocating.” He added, “It wasn’t my impression that Mr. Rendell was advocating a bigoted electorate as an acceptable status quo or a healthy attitude for Pennsylvania.”

I couldn’t help but point out to the governor that he made these comments just about a month after Bill Clinton had compared Obama’s victory in South Carolina to the victory of another black candidate from years ago, Jesse Jackson. The governor told me he was bothered by the comments made by the former President but still stood by his.

Is Gov. Ed Rendell a racist? He says no and attempted to prove it, saying, “Anybody who knows my record as governor knows I’ve been probably the most inclusive governor we’ve ever had . Minority business enterprises now have 10% of state business. They had 2% of state business before I became governor. This is the most inclusive administration we’ve ever had.”

In our interview, Mr. Rendell also told me, ”Senator Clinton might lose some votes because there are conservative white democrats who don’t want to see a woman as commander in chief. Those are facts, and Senator Obama had done a great job sort of putting race behind him. Look at the votes in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Utah where there are predominantly white voters. He has done a great job overcoming that.”

Who does Rendell blame for all this talk of race? You guessed it, the media! He said, “The media in my judgment is the number one offender here. We've got to get to the point where white candidates can criticize black candidates and black candidates can criticize white candidates without it being characterized as racist.”

At the end of our meeting, I asked the Governor if his candidate doesn’t win the nomination, will he support Barack Obama? He told me, “Of course. I had a call from Senator Obama, he said, you know I’m gonna be the nominee.  And I didn’t argue with him. I said, sure.  And he said, I just wanna make sure that nothing happens during Pennsylvania, the campaign here, that will make it harder for us to win in the fall.  And I said, Senator, don’t even worry about that for 5 seconds.”

Even the Governor admitted to me it is tough for him to hold his tongue, so these days he’s waiting a few seconds between thinking something and opening his mouth. He says he doesn’t want to hurt the Democrats' chance to win the White House come November.

– Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent 

Program note: See Randi's report on Gov. Rendell's comments tonight on a special edition of Anderson Cooper 360: Race & Politics at 11p ET.

Filed under: Ed Rendell • Randi Kaye
soundoff (128 Responses)
  1. Chris

    It is a pity that we are still harping on the Wright issue, I would hehove all of you doubters to actuall watch the full sermon, he said "God damm America if" the operative word being "If". If you are believer in God, read the bible from Genesis to Revelation, you will see that every nation that has suppositioned itself as God has been destroyed by God, so please watch and understand, if you do not then it just proves that you are ignorant and racist.
    The Clintons are lying at every turn. Let us not cut off our nose to spite our face.
    Obama 08'

    April 3, 2008 at 4:04 pm |
  2. Angela Green

    It's 2008! If people are still judging people's character and abilities by their skin colour or sex, that is a sad commentary on not only Pennsylvania, but also, the USA as a whole. It is time to get beyond this. I feel sorry for this governor that he has to admit that his state is still living in the dark ages.

    April 3, 2008 at 3:52 pm |
  3. DK Sayfeld

    With Governer Ed Rendall,
    Three words come to mind:
    Hyper White toothed Baracuda
    Sir, Please get off my TV NOW

    April 3, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  4. Casey Jones, Palm Springs, CA

    Governor Rendell is a politician and he didn't just fall off the turnip truck. This wasn't racist but it was a push for Senator Clinton. The Governor knows well everything he says is in the "public domain," and he knew these comments would incite an emotional, knee-jerk reaction. This is consistent with the Clinton campaign strategy.

    Come on, Governor Renedell, don't play stupid and innocent with us. Once you make a planned, inflamatory comment in the court room of public opinion, you can't just stirke it form the record. How convenient such comments are never forgotten. And what position is it that you want to be appointed to when/if Senator Clinton gets elected?

    April 3, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  5. Ham

    Well Sir... if you want to take a road like that I could easily assume there are several men of any color who aren't ready to vote for a women couldn't I?

    Keep to the things that matter.... Please

    April 3, 2008 at 3:47 pm |
  6. Max

    "Conservative whites" most likely won't vote for an African American, considering the only one in the race is on the Democratic side. So Republicans aren't progressive.
    Calm down. We knew that.

    April 3, 2008 at 3:07 pm |
  7. Mike in NYC

    I can't count myself as an admirer of Rendell - he's too much of the classic political animal - but on this issue he's spot on.

    Most blacks are voting for Obama because of his color, and most of his white supporters are voting for him for the same reason.

    It seems that identity politics is only distasteful when it's practiced by whites. When blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc. engage in it, no one bats an eyelash. It's considered their right as "minorities."

    April 3, 2008 at 2:57 pm |
  8. RPC

    Hillary and her supporters need to wake up.

    Just like the sniper fire in Bosnia from which Hillary fled, her becoming President is pure fantasy.

    Obama in '08!

    April 3, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  9. J. Churchill

    . . . .As we may observe by Senator Obama's lead, most people will
    vote for a SMART man.

    April 3, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  10. marta fekete

    Obama is the American equivalent of The SarKozy phenomenon . they both captured the minds of the people.... hoping for something miraculously eliminate problems of the society we live in and waish to change .. but the Real character of both men are frivolous vainglorious and luck depth ..

    he would fumble the ball badly...Hillary MAY give us real hope..

    April 3, 2008 at 2:27 pm |
  11. EJ - Ohio

    Of course there are whites who will not vote for Obama because he is black. There were many in Ohio who said so in the polls. Maybe at least 20% who admitted to it.

    However, for Governor Rendell to say that in such a fierce primary competition – and him being such a die-hard Hillary Clinton supporter – was probably not a smart thing to say.

    It was – no doubt – a politically motivated statement.

    It was not simply about 'telling the truth' as Rendell likes to say.

    April 3, 2008 at 2:11 pm |
  12. Jan from Wood Dale, IL

    How is it even possible to have a dialogue about race when someone like Gov. Rendell voices his opinion and is automatically declared a "racist"?

    And there's no need for a pity party for Rev. Wright. The Trinity United Church of Christ is rewarding Rev. Wright's 30 years of service by building him a million dollar home in Tinley Park, where the median price of existing homes is $250,000 and new homes is $530,000. Since the property and home will be owned by the church, they will also be tax-exempt.

    April 3, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  13. William of Iowa

    A narrow-minded characterization of the citizens in Pennsylvania is not a good thing to do for a sitting governor.

    April 3, 2008 at 1:29 pm |
  14. Jonathan bray

    In defense of both Clinton and Obama. Obama should not be called a racist through "guilt by association" with Wright, but calling Rendell a racist over this is a little harsh.

    April 3, 2008 at 1:29 pm |
  15. jim in pennsylvania

    I saw on the news the other day that Ed Rendall was a popular Pennsylvania governer was astounded- unbelievable ==someone must have just asked him or Hilary that question.
    Ed Rendall is the worst governer Pennsylvania has ever had.
    He will go down the same as the Bush administration.
    The only reason some people are not coming out and speaking the truth about him is most of them are State workers and they want to keep there jobs.
    Rendall did the same thing when gambling in Pennsylvania was on the ballot... He told the state workers that gambling in Pennsylvania had to pass- in other words if u want ur state job vote for gambling in Pennsylvania.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:59 pm |
  16. Carol

    He doesn't sound like a very enthusiastic Hillary supporter. It seems that he is endorsing her as the lesser of two evils.

    He is not saying people in PA will vote FOR Hillary – he's saying the people will vote AGAINST Obama and therefore choose Hillary.

    I think the voters of PA should get rid of this guy. He does not think too highly of his constituents.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:56 pm |
  17. jim in pennsylvania

    Its sad that we have two politicians spreading this kind of garbage in Pennsylvania-
    Pennsylvania voters are sick and tired of both Hilary and Rendall.
    We just keep adding up the lies every day....
    Is is unimaginable that we the people of Pennsylvania put this idiot in office over Lynn Swann.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:53 pm |
  18. White woman

    I am a white woman the governor is “a subtle form of racist.”

    April 3, 2008 at 12:53 pm |
  19. Francis

    Echoing Mr. J: It’s not whether a white man will vote for a black man – it’s that we just will not vote for this black man. As a person of color-not, I would vote for Colin Powell in a heartbeat.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:53 pm |
  20. jim in pennsylvania

    Its sad-– Pennsylvania have a mind of there own... We are not living in the 90,s anymore.....
    I personally am voting for the man who has been consistant from the very beginning.. I dont care what color his skin is!!!!!!!!!!!
    It is allmost unbelievable for this kind of garbage to be circulated throughout Pennsylvania by Rendall.
    It seems like every time either him or Hilary open there mouths- garbage shews out.
    Obama is the man with a plan-–

    April 3, 2008 at 12:50 pm |
  21. vicky

    That is what is wrong with this country. People would rather have no jobs, or homes and pay $5.00 a gallon for gas then vote for a black man or even a woman in some cases. As a "True American" this makes me sick. The fact that people don't vote on the issues, but on race or gender shows how stupid people in this country are. They don't care about this country and what is going on, or care about their fellow Americans who may not be as fortunate as they may be. Americans who are voting for a CandidateBASED ONLY on Race, Gender or because they are a "war hero" and not on the issues should be ashamed of themselves. You are an embarrassment to this country and our voting system.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:49 pm |
  22. andy

    Well its like this not only will whites not vote , Um if the news would ever report all of who will not vote for Obama they would see that the Browns will not vote for him either! He will lose the general election by a very large margin if you put all the numbers together and if the media would tell the truth ! lets just say 54% of latino will not cats a vote for him !

    April 3, 2008 at 12:42 pm |
  23. Rob Winnipeg Canada

    Senator Obama was bang on when he said in his speech that folks are still stuck in the mindset confirmed by Gov. Rendells statement. The American people have quite a ways to go yet before they are able to take these types of statements for what they are – cheap political tricks aimed at a specific audience. Again all this confirms the type of politics that encompass the 'change' Senator Obama wants to bring to politics that he hopes folks are mature enough to accept. The Gov is supposed to be a leader when his statements suggest he has no desire to see these issues move forward. Of course he is being no doubt encouraged by the Clintons wink wink.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:40 pm |
  24. Carol B., Virginia

    It's an unfortunate statement, however, racism will not ever be eradicated completely. The recent candidates for the Republican party are fairly uniform. Unfortunately for the Democrats, there still are some people in our country who won't vote for a female or black candidate. Maybe this is something that only seems to improve with access to education and positive interactions with people from other cultures and religions. We have a lot of xenophobia within our own country.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:33 pm |
  25. Danny

    I agree Hillary should be our nominee and she going to beat John McCain. I don't think Obama going to win in general election because he
    racist issue, Muslin issue, Mr. Rezko and lied about NAFTA that's Rep. going to attack him.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:25 pm |
  26. E. McCoy, PA

    . . . .Those Pennsylvanians who are not still living by laws of the Medieval doctrine will vote for Senator Obama. I know, because I am one of them.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:22 pm |
  27. M. Piper, Harrisburg

    . . . .Rendell is right, there are many whites who won't vote for Senator
    Obama. But if you have visited the packed colleges and campaign rallies
    in Pennsylvania lately, there are a hell of a lot of whites who ARE
    going to vote for him, including myself.


    April 3, 2008 at 12:17 pm |
  28. elaine c., ambler, pa

    Wow! I am stunned by the reactions this has unleashed.

    Having lived and worked in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas all my life, I unfortunately am embarrassed to have to acknowledge that there are still SOME people who would not vote for a black presidential candidate; as I believe there are SOME people who would not vote for a female candidate. Unfortunately I think what Gov. Rendell said was true. To think otherwise is delusional.

    Fortunately, I think there are MORE white people in Pennsylvania who don't care about Obama's race. We get ourselves into trouble when we start unconsiously hearing the ratcheting up the actual quote from "some whites" to "all whites".

    I will be very happy for either candidate to win, as long as a democrat takes the general election in November.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:09 pm |
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