CHARLOTTE, N.C. –Wading back into the Democratic presidential race, billionaire businessman Bob Johnson said Monday that Sen. Barack Obama would not be his party’s leading candidate if he were white.
Johnson’s comments to the Charlotte Observer echoed those of former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. She stepped down as an adviser to Sen. Hillary Clinton last month after saying Obama wouldn’t be where he is if he were white.
“What I believe Geraldine Ferraro meant is that if you take a freshman senator from Illinois called ‘Jerry Smith’ and he says I’m going to run for president, would he start off with 90 percent of the black vote?” Johnson said. “And the answer is, probably not.”
“Geraldine Ferraro said it right. The problem is, Geraldine Ferraro is white. This campaign has such a hair-trigger on anything racial it is almost impossible for anybody to say anything.”
Johnson, who made a fortune after founding Black Entertainment Television and now owns the Charlotte Bobcats, is a longtime friend of Clinton and her husband, the former president.
It was during a January appearance for the New York senator that he first stepped into controversy, referring to Obama and “what he was doing in the neighborhood.”
Many took that as a reference to Obama’s acknowledged drug use in his youth. But in a statement, Johnson said he’d been “referring to Barack Obama’s time spent as a community organizer and nothing else. Any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect.”
On Monday, Johnson alluded to the incident.
“I make a joke about Obama doing drugs (and it’s) ‘Oh my God, a black man tearing down another black man’,” Johnson said.
The Obama campaign dismissed Johnson’s comments.
“This is just one in a long line of absurd comments by Bob Johnson and other Clinton supporters who will say or do anything to get the nomination,” said spokesman Dan Leistikow. “The American people are tired of this and are ready to turn the page on these kind of attack politics.”
Johnson disputed the notion that Obama has built a broad coalition. Most of his support, he said, comes from African Americans and white liberals but not white, working-class Democrats.
“I don’t think he has that common – what I call ‘I-want-to-go-out-and-have-a-drink-with-you – touch’,” Johnson said.
An Observer/WCNC Poll this month found Obama and Clinton splitting the votes of white North Carolinians who say they’ll vote in the May 6 primary. Obama led 59 percent to 7 percent among African Americans.
Johnson, who said Obama is likely to win the nomination, says Obama has had the support of “the liberal media.”
“They sort of dislike Hillary for her vote on the war. They don’t want to see Bill and Hillary in power again,” he said. “So Obama comes in and runs a smart campaign. But that’s not the Second Coming, in my opinion, of John F. Kennedy, FDR or the world’s greatest leaders.”