ATLANTA (AP) — The police shooting and death of Michael Brown has gripped the nation amid clashes between protesters and the police in suburban St. Louis. But for most of those who want to lead the nation, there's little to gain in an election year by taking a stand or proposing new policy.
Instead, a group of potential 2016 presidential candidates are preserving their electoral prospects and retreating into safe rhetorical territory by saying very little, if anything at all.
Amid tensions over Brown's the death, Democrats and Republicans alike have been reluctant to take sides, draw any conclusions ahead of an investigation or connect the case to specific policy changes.
"As policymakers, I think we should wait and just be respectful of the community and the family before trying to tack our issue onto this tragedy," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who has been promoting a new book as the protests have unfolded.
For Republicans, who have struggled to win support among black voters for more than a half-century, quickly siding with law enforcement carries risk amid anger over the death of the unarmed, black 18-year-old by the hand of a white police officer.
Democrats, meanwhile, have watched as President Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, has sought to strike an appropriate tone, on one hand urging the public to remain calm in Ferguson and voicing the need for law and order while pointing to the case as another example of injustice felt by many African-Americans.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been vacationing in New York's Hamptons, hasn't publicly addressed the Ferguson case, nor has Vice President Joe Biden, who was vacationing when the shooting occurred.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was asked about the Ferguson case during a recent town hall meeting and cautioned against politicizing it. "None of us quite know yet exactly what happened in Ferguson," said Christie, a former federal prosecutor, on Tuesday. "I've been urging people not to prejudge anything here."
Charlton McIlwain, a New York University professor who has studied race in U.S. politics, said many political leaders see little upside to discussing the racially charged incident at length. He said the portrayal of Brown and the police officer as either a hero or villain — at this stage — makes it difficult to take sides.
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