When all the chess pieces are lined up, who is really best suited to beat John McCain? Hillary or Barack, the white woman or the black man? Both come with baggage -- hers attached to her gender, his to his skin color -- that has nothing to do with their ability to govern. Sorry, but race and gender do still count, even in a day when many of us wish they did not. And there will be a point when many a voter will enter the voting booth, away from glaring eyes or politically correct drumbeats, and cast a vote that will be influenced at least in part by gender and race.
It's no head-scratcher to figure out why Hillary garnered more female voters and Obama more black voters on Super Tuesday.
In the final primary weeks, Democrats should ask themselves this question: Is the United States more prone to racism or to sexism? And how should the answer affect party strategy if the goal is a Democratic White House?
I vote sexist. Hillary haters are much more numerous and vocal than those who can't stomach the idea of a black man globetrotting for the next four years on Air Force One.
It's ironic that women got the vote more than four decades before blacks were effectively enfranchised, yet it is only now that either women or blacks are getting a chance to elect one of their own to the highest office in the land. It's more ironic still that the black candidate may have a better chance of overcoming prejudice and winning the presidency.
True, the hardcore racists do not care if Obama is half-black, 10 drops or dark as coal. But, then, those folks weren't going to vote Democratic in the first place. No doubt Obama has a security detail unequaled by any other presidential candidate. I'd lay money he has had death threats that no other candidate, including Hillary, could match. All because of his skin color.
So far, the only racially inspired scrutiny Obama has faced was early on, when many blacks were wondering, "Is he black enough?" That skepticism helped Obama among some white voters. Not receiving an unqualified stamp of approval from black political leaders right away signaled that Obama was not pursuing politics as usual. And if, for a while, blacks wondered if he could represent their interests, the consensus now seems to be "close enough."
John Edwards' white male supporters seemed to be crossing into the Obama camp on Super Tuesday. He's turning into a bit of an everyman's candidate, a political chameleon. The black-white swirl choice, with a nice topping of hope.
Clinton doesn't have such flexibility in her image. She is a second version of Bill Clinton. And he is a man who still goads Republicans enough to drive them to vote, simply to be against a Clinton.
Finally, Hillary was not whining to note early in her campaign that she was taking extra flak for her femininity, or lack thereof. It remains more excusable to say rude things about women in public than it does to cast racial barbs.
Hillary was scrutinized for possibly showing cleavage, accused of crying on cue, and chastised for wearing too much color (and too little) and pantsuits instead of skirts.
Petty drivel, all of it. No male candidate would ever be put under such a microscope.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are eating their own. John McCain might start sounding more pious to engage conservative Republicans. But if he reaches too far, he'll turn off the independents likely to take a chance on Obama's message of bipartisan cooperation.
The United States might be ready to elect a woman, just not this one. Especially not when the alternative option -- Obama -- continues to hold his ground.
Heck of a mirror this 2008 presidential campaign is holding up to America.
Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.