by John McCormick
CARSON CITY, Nev. – With an African American in the contest, matters of race are never far below the surface of the Democratic presidential nomination battle, especially lately.
But they rarely are confronted so directly as the way they were by a gray-haired woman sitting in the front row of a campaign event for Sen. Barack Obama here Monday evening.
"Let's get down to brass tacks," she said. "We have never elected a black man" president.
Obama, who typically downplays the role of race in his campaign, turned to humor.
"That's a good point," he said, drawing a laugh from an audience his campaign said totally more than 2,000. "I've noticed that."
Obama then talked about his 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate in Illinois, saying some suggested the state would "never elect a black guy named Barack Obama. You can't even pronounce his name."
But Obama said he continues to believe Americans are willing to look past race and focus on ways to improve their lives and the nation.
"Will there be some folks who … won't vote for me because I'm black, of course," he said. "Just like there will be some people who won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman, or they won't vote for John Edwards because they don't like his accent."
Earlier, Obama had stressed that he has the experience for the job and had not just "popped out making a nice speech somewhere."
He then turned his attention to the Clintons and sought to make the case that he has shown strong growth potential in the past year of campaign.
"I started from scratch and have been competing against the top political operation in the country that was built over 20 years by a former president of the United States of America," he said. "And I don't know if everybody has noticed, but we are playing them even right now."
Asked who he might pick as a running mate, should be win his party's nomination, Obama said such discussions are premature.
"We've only had two contests so far," he said. "We're pretty far from winning the nomination."
Near the end of his appearance here, Obama also made a confession:
"You know what you can't do? You can't put me in charge of some paper. I will lose it," he said. "You don't want me as the chief operating officer. But that's not my job. I'm not a systems guy. I'm not somebody who could make sure that, you know, everything is running on time."