Special to CNN
Sen. Harry Reid's comments during the 2008 Democratic primary show that he is socially awkward, but they certainly don't prove he is a secret racist. If anything, these comments show that Reid may know about white voters, but he doesn't understand black voters at all.
Reid's assessment that President Obama's light skin was beneficial to his electability among white voters may be accurate, but it's certainly not decisive. Think of it this way: We can divide white voters into three categories relative to black candidates. One group believes that blacks, as a group, are unqualified to hold public office. They will refuse to vote for a black candidate regardless of his politics or his skin tone. Surveys indicate that this is a dwindling part of the white electorate.
Another group of white voters is deeply committed to interracial political coalitions and are enthusiastic about voting for black candidates when they have the opportunity. This group is also largely unaffected by characteristics like skin color.
Finally, there is a group of white voters who are willing to vote for a black candidate, but who need to feel comfortable that the candidate will represent their interests. These white voters are looking for cues, signals and signs.
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