Washington, Oct.15 : The race factor might play a significant role in who will be the 44th president of the United States when voting takes place on November 4 this year.
Though both Obama (a black) and McCain (a white) almost never talk directly about it, the topic has surfaced openly during the final weeks of the campaign.
Either way, the situation is confounding aides on both sides, who like everyone else are waiting to see what role race will play in the privacy of the voting booth. Harold Ickes, a Democrat, routinely shaves off a point or two from Obama's number to account for hidden racial prejudices.
That is no small factor, considering that Obama and McCain are separated by very thin margins in many polls in battleground states.
"If he were white, this would be a blowout. I think the country has come a long, long, long way since the 1960s. I think everybody would agree with that. But if you talk to people in certain states, they will say there are impulses that do not benefit Barack Obama because of the color of his skin," the New York Times quotes Ickes, as saying.
Saul Anuzis, the Republican chairman in Michigan, said he had become accustomed to whispered asides from voters suggesting they would not vote for Obama because he is black.
"We honestly don't know how big an issue it is," Anuzis said.
But Representative Artur Davis, an African-American Democrat of Alabama, said race was no longer the automatic barrier to the White House that it once was.
"There is a group of voters who will not vote for people who are opposite their race," Davis said, adding: "I think that number is lower today than it has been at any point in our history. I don't believe this campaign will be decided by race. There are too many other important issues. Jesse Jackson would not have been elected in 1988. But we've changed."
But it is hard to tell to what extent voters who are opposing Obama might seize other issues - his age and level of experience, his positions on the issues, his cultural and ideological background - as a shield.
A crucial part of Obama's theory for winning the election is turning out blacks in places like Florida and North Carolina, a state that Obama's advisers view as in play largely because of the significant African-American population.