The subject of race has gotten major — some would say excessive — play in recent Democratic debates, but judging from this New York Times report, we can expect more on this matter from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in coming weeks. That’s because, as the paper put it, “If any election can prove that Southern blacks are not a monolithic voting bloc, it is this one.”

The New York Times:

Across the South, a fierce competition is afoot for black voters, who are expected to constitute 20 percent to 50 percent of voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary on Jan. 26 and in the four Southern states with primaries on Feb. 5: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee. In many counties, registration has spiked since Mr. Obama won the Iowa caucuses, and election officials say interest is at its highest point in several election cycles.

While the official ground game is just beginning, chatter about the two candidates — both of whom have substantial claims to African-American support — is constant on black radio shows and e-mail lists and at barbershops. Officials and ministers are coming forward with last-minute endorsements, and campaigns are buttering up the activity directors at centers for the elderly. Both campaigns have opened or will open offices this week — the Clinton camp in Nashville, the Obama camp in Little Rock, Ark., in Memphis and two each in Alabama and Georgia.

For several weeks, race has dominated the Democratic contest, prompting a flurry of angry words between the Obama and Clinton camps. That fight appears to have died down, but Southern black voters are still in knots over a contest that pits a woman they know well against a viable black candidate.

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