Stumping for his wife, Clinton compared Obama’s big victory in the South Carolina primary to that of Jesse Jackson, who ran for president in 1984 and 1988 but did not attract large national support. Also during the campaign, he described Obama’s record as a “fairy tale.” The comments led some to accuse Clinton of being dismissive of Obama and trying to marginalize him.
In keeping with his preference for discussing race on his own terms, Obama reacted to the Wright controversy by delivering a nuanced speech on race in March 2008 that was well received and helped to neutralize his vulnerability on the pastor’s comments.
Obama moved on from the issue after the speech. In the one brief flare-up of the race issue during the general election campaign, GOP nominee John McCain’s campaign accused Obama of exploiting racial tensions after the Democratic candidate warned supporters that Republicans might use his race against him. "They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?" Obama told a fundraiser in the summer of 2008.
The flap was short-lived. Both the Obama and McCain camps quickly put the issue behind them and it was not raised again by either candidate.
In July 2009, Obama waded into controversy at a White House news conference when he accused police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of having acted “stupidly” in the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, a black Harvard professor. Gates was mistaken for a burglar when he tried to enter his own home.
And after Vice President Joe Biden told a black audience this summer that Republican policies would “put y’all back in chains,” Obama defended the vice president, saying he was trying to make a point about financial regulation but he also called the phrasing a “distraction” from other issues in the campaign.
Paula McClain, a professor of political science at Duke University, said discussing race is a “double-edged sword” for Obama. On the one hand, he said, many African Americans would like to hear Obama talk more of the struggles they and other minorities face. But she said that Obama was being pragmatic in not emphasizing an issue that is sensitive in American politics.
“I think he’s straddling that racial rail quite well,” McClain said.