Former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert said Wednesday night that there was "no question" Mitt Romney's repeated use of the word "foreign" to describe President Barack Obama was about race.

"Lee Atwater explained it," Herbert remarked. "He said that in the early days of the southern strategy, you could come out and use the bigoted term, you could say the n-word over and over again and pound it and get, you know, the segregationist bloc to come out and you would win those votes."

"But after awhile... you can't keep pounding that theme over and over again. You have to use other terms, code words. Now with Barack Obama as president, the code words are 'foreign,' perhaps 'Muslim,' maybe 'not Christian.' It all means not one of us and what they mean by 'us' is a certain kind of white person. But I don't believe that that's the prevailing opinion or prevailing view among whites in the United States in 2012. I think that it's a losing theme in this election."

Herbert said the country had become less and less bigoted during his lifetime. He predicted those who tried to use racism to their advantage would fail.

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