Increasingly desperate conservatives are turning to race baiting in a series of attacks that will only get more ferocious after Wednesday's first U.S. presidential debate, says actor and activist Martin Sheen.

Sheen made the comments even before the conservative media began eagerly touting a “secret” video from 2007 in which then-candidate Barack Obama allegedly made racially charged remarks.

But this “October Surprise” comes as no surprise at all to Sheen. He told The Huffington Post he’s confident Obama will win re-election, though only after some ugly weeks.

“What is happening is that the Republican candidate has shown his true colours and the voters are saying, ‘Wait a minute, this guy is really not on our side’ and it’s becoming increasingly clear that President Obama is on our side. That is making all the difference,” Sheen said backstage at Free The Children’s We Day youth rally in Toronto last Friday.

“But I don’t think [Romney] is going to leave without a ferocious fight in the last five weeks, including the debates. That is where he has focused a lot of his attention and energy and a lot of his possibility for success. If he does well in the debates — and he’s obviously prepared and realizes that nothing is really more important from here on out than those debates — he may close the gap. But I don’t think he can win.”

It remains to be seen how well Romney will do in the three presidential debates, which kick off Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET in Denver, but the ugliness Sheen predicted took only a few days to roll out.

Tuesday, both Drudge Report and Fox News’ Sean Hannity began eagerly pushing a 2007 video posted to Tucker Carlson’s website The Daily Caller. Addressing a group of black ministers, Obama praised his then-uncontroversial pastor Jeremiah Wright while decrying the treatment of the predominantly black victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Sheen said the campaign’s racial dog whistles — like Romney’s race-baiting (and factchecker-disproven) welfare ads — demonstrate a willingness on the right’s part to use prejudice to win votes against the country’s first black president.

“It’s just fundamental racism,” Sheen explained. “It’s still there, you know. It is just something, who can explain it? It’s just part of our national culture, our heritage, our reality, you know. There are a lot of well meaning but misguided people who, without them thinking of themselves as such, are racist. Their conservative stance, it’s like fundamentalism is theology without imagination and racism is politics without foundation.”

Sheen expects these sorts of race-based attacks will only increase — whether Romney and Ryan want them to or not — because in an era of Super PACs and Fox News, the GOP candidates simply don’t have the conservative sway to contain the attacks.

“I don’t think there is anything that Ryan or Romney can do to stop it — neither one of them has a powerful enough commitment to the base. It’s just not who they are. It’s not where they come from. These are white, very, very over-privileged men who have never done the work necessary to embrace leadership. Neither one of them has ever done anything that really forced them to grow or change in a way that would make them a desirable leader.”

Speaking of over-privileged, Sheen is not at all surprised that in a post-Occupy election year, in which income inequality has become an issue, the Republican ticket boasts a pair of multi-millionaires from wealthy backgrounds.

“It’s a reflection of who they are, where they come from, what they stand for. They have a totally different take on the country and it does not include the middle-class or the poor, the people on the margins. They don’t speak for, they even admit it, the 47 percent. They think of them as being spongers, as people who don’t make any contribution but get everything they need for nothing and that’s just ludicrous.”

Sheen does think the presidential race is “a lot closer than people realize,” but believes Romney’s own videotaped exposé dismissing almost half the populace as free-loaders will ultimately doom his campaign.

“He hasn’t done himself any favours, Mr. Romney. His whole thrust from here on out is kind of a desperate one.”

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