Image: Hartford voter
Tom Curry, msnbc.com
Hartford, Conn. voter Luis Diaz Jimenez cast his ballot for Sen. Hillary Clinton Tuesday morning.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 2/5/2008 4:17:44 PM ET 2008-02-05T21:17:44

At 7:15 Tuesday morning, ten voters were lined up waiting to cast their ballots at the Rawson Elementary School in a mostly black neighborhood in Hartford, Conn.

Most of them later said they voted for Sen. Barack Obama, part of what appeared to be a strong turnout for the Senator in district 7.

LaShawne Houston, an employment coordinator who cast her ballot for Obama, said being at the candidate's 15,000-person rally in Hartford Monday night “was even more moving and more motivating. The young kids were out, my daughter was there; she’ll be 18 next month. Her girlfriends were there. A lot of guys that I went to school with — the guys that seemed to get into trouble — were there. That was impressive to me.”

Are those guys going to vote? “They better, they better!” she replied.

“I think I was moved because I don’t know if they were registered (to vote) in the past. These are the guys you sometimes see hanging out on the streets and just to see them walking, if they didn’t have a car, to get down there to hear him was pretty impressive – not that it should be impressive, but I know in their walks of life what they do.”

Never considered Clinton
“We need a change in the White House and that change is Obama,” said Sadie Williams, a secretary who cast her ballot early Tuesday morning at the Rawson School.

“I saw him last night (at Obama’s rally in Hartford) and I saw him in 2006 at the John Bailey dinner where he made a speech. I think he’ll do everything that he says he’ll do, especially for the working family, and Iraq, pulling the troops out. Billions are spent there every month.”

Williams said she never considered voting for Sen. Hillary Clinton or any other Democratic presidential contender.

Williams rejects Clinton’s argument that Obama lacks the experience required to be president. “Bush went in there. What kind of experience did he have?” she asked.

She said she voted for anti-war candidate Ned Lamont when he challenged Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2006.

A few voters said Obama’s relative lack of experience at the federal level was an asset, not a liability.

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“I don’t feel that he has any history with the White House. We need someone with no history. Someone to bring a fresh perspective,” explained Obama voter Deborah Smith.

She, unlike most other Obama voters we interviewed in district 7, said he had considered voting for Clinton “more because I liked Bill.” But she said, “You can’t base her presidency on what Bill did.”

Video: A big day for Clinton and Obama District 7 in Hartford is comprised almost entirely of black voters. It is part of a zip code with an 86 percent black population, where a quarter of the people have incomes below the federal poverty line, and where 2.6 percent have a graduate or professional degree, according to the Census.

For Obama in affluent West Hartford
In contrast, at the King Philip Middle School in West Hartford, just two miles away, the population is more than 90 percent white and only one percent of the people are below the federal poverty line. One third of the people in this district have graduate or professional degrees, according to the Census.

Eley Shapiro, a retired secretary, said, “I voted for Obama because we need change badly. But there’s going to be a lot of friction. I voted for him, but I don’t think he’ll make it. You know that old expression, ‘The South shall rise again’? I don’t think the Southern vote will help him any. They’re very powerful…. There’s still so much racism in the country.”

She said Obama is “intelligent and he’s decent and so far, he’s not a crook. So far. I like his stature, I like his appearance. I’m very much on that ‘cleanliness is next to godliness.'”

Shapiro considered voting for Clinton.

“I like her. I think she’s sharp. I don’t know why the country hates her.”

She said she voted for Lieberman in the Lieberman versus Lamont primary in 2006 “because he was Jewish and I am Jewish, so I voted for him. And I think that’s why the black people will vote for Obama.”

West Hartford education consultant Norma Pelletier, who cast her vote for Obama at the King Philip School, said she wanted him, if he is elected president, to “make us be liked by other countries in the world, to make peace and to establish some sort of discussion so that we’re not just everybody’s enemy.”

As for past presidents who’ve been her favorites, Pelletier said, “I really liked Jimmy Carter, but he was not the right man for the job because he didn’t have backing and the know-how to know how to get through the system. I’m a little afraid of Barack for the same reason. But I don’t know, I have to take a chance on it."

Tom Curry, msnbc.com
Caryn Neff voted for Sen. Barack Obama in West Hartford, Conn. Tuesday morning
With her infant son Jack in tow, Caryn Neff, a part-time social studies teacher, drove in her minivan to the King Philip School to vote for Obama.

“More than anything, kids are very apathetic, people in general are very apathetic, and I think he stands for something that is going to be a change in Washington and a change in politics.”

Neff said she weighed voting for Clinton “mostly because as a woman I would love to see a woman president.”

But she was put off by the idea of “there being a Bush or Clinton in office for 20 years. That’s a little much.”

Mary Conneely, a West Hartford stay-at-home mother, voted for Clinton. “I’ve always admired her. She has the experience. It was a tough decision because at the end we were hearing so much about Barack Obama and I like him as well. But for me I think she has a lot of good experience and I would just love to see a woman president.”

She added, “I just heard some man on the radio saying he wasn’t a sexist, but he worries about how a woman president would be perceived overseas. That drove me nuts when I heard that.”

Conneely voted for Lamont in the Lieberman-Lamont battle of 2006.

Republican voter Mark Wolfe in West Hartford, who cast his ballot for Mitt Romney, voiced suspicion about Obama: “Barack, I don’t know where the hell he came from.”

Wolfe thinks it odd that Obama “emerged with such fervor. I think he’s a creation of you guys, a creation of the press that built him up to be something he’s not yet. Maybe ten years down the road. He’s very young, very inexperienced. I wouldn’t vote for him.”

Will Hartford district be 'Hillary Country'?
If there is a Latino-black schism in the Democratic primary, it should be visible in the Hartford assembly district represented by state Rep. Kelvin Roldan.

Clinton’s hopes for success in Connecticut hinge greatly on Latino leaders such as Roldan and on Latino voters.

Roldan who has been working among his constituents to get out the vote for Clinton, said of his district, “I expect this to be Hillary Country.”

Roldan’s district is just a short walk from downtown development projects such as the Connecticut Convention Center. The population in Roldan’s zip code is nearly three-fifths Latino, with 62 percent of the people speaking a language other than English at home. The district includes Puerto Ricans, Polish-Americans, and Bosnian émigrés.

Showing up to cast his ballot at the Ramon Betances School on Charter Oak Avenue Tuesday morning was Luis Diaz Jimenez, who explained through a translator that he voted for Clinton “because of the Democratic principles that she has always carried and because of what she has promised to Hispanics. She is the most qualified candidate. And to have real change, here is the woman with the ability to do it.”

“Both Obama and Clinton have done a good job of getting the word out in this district,” Roldan said. “My constituents are very clear that Hillary Clinton is their candidate. She has a stronger record having served in the Senate, having been involved in health care, child issues for the last two decades and having started her career here in Connecticut at Yale Law School. She has a longer lasting relationship with the people of Connecticut that people are looking at.”

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