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Clinton’s standing with black voters on the line

Even in a Harlem church where former President Bill Clinton is revered, his wife and presidential aspirant Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has some work to do with black women once expected to be firmly in her camp.
/ Source: Reuters

Even in a Harlem church where former President Bill Clinton is revered, his wife and presidential aspirant Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has some work to do with black women once expected to be firmly in her camp.

“Right now, she’s my front-runner, but that may change the more I learn about Obama,” said Angela Lago, a retired hospital recruiter among the ranks of black women voters looking at Sen. Barack Obama as an alternative among Democratic contenders.

Danese Smalls, who sells jewelry in the historic black neighborhood of New York, said she changed her mind after Clinton voted to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

“She lost me on that. Now I’m not convinced she’s any different from any other politician,” Smalls said.

Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist and black woman who managed the presidential campaign for former Vice President Al Gore, said it was difficult to predict who black women would vote for.

“It’s a key voting bloc. Black women tend to make their minds up early, and they get involved in other ways as well,” Brazile said.

Black women register and turn out to vote in higher numbers than the overall population, she noted.

“Both candidates are attractive, they have strong civil rights records and the experience black women most depend on in making their selection,” Brazile said. “It’s hard to guess where black women will ultimately stand.”

Research by pollster John Zogby from February and March showed black women supporting Clinton with 35 percent; Obama, the only black senator, with 22 percent; former Sen. John Edwards with 6 percent; and the rest undecided.

But a widely cited ABC-Washington Post poll in February showed Obama with 44 percent of support among black voters and Clinton with 33 percent. Earlier polls showed Clinton ahead of Obama with black voters by 60 percent to 20 percent.

Close contest for funding
In another sign of the competition between the Democratic front-runners, this week Obama reported raising $25 million in campaign funds, just shy of Clinton’s $26 million, in the run-up to primary elections that will decide the nominee who will seek the presidency in November 2008.

Obama reported 100,000 donations, compared with the former first lady’s 50,000.

“I’m torn,” said New York-based film producer Lisa Cortes, a black woman. “This election makes you think very differently because it’s not about ’Oh, which white man?”’

Defectors from the Clinton camp include attorney Bacardi Jackson, who lives in Miami and wrote an open letter of support for Obama that was widely circulated on the Internet. It ends by saying she supports him “without apology” to the former first couple.

“There’s an expectation that the Clintons have the black community sewn up,” Jackson said.

That is not to say there are not plenty of unflagging Clinton supporters, like Hattie Nichols of Manhattan.

“I’m not having second thoughts about Hillary,” she said. ”I don’t vote for Clinton because she’s a woman. I vote for her because I think she’ll do the best for the country.”

Party loyalty may trump racial loyalty
Obama will not get votes because of his color any more than Clinton will get votes for being a woman, said Edsel O’Conner, a retired nursing practitioner who lives in the Bronx.

“People think black people will vote for a candidate because they’re black, but there’s an awful lot of stupid black people out there who voted for Bush,” she said.

The Democratic contenders, particularly Clinton, know the effective force of black women voters, who tend to be organized and loyal, said Brazile.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her Senate races, and Bill Clinton, in his presidential races, were extremely popular among black women.

All of the candidates hope to line up as many key black women supporters as possible. “Hillary is out there doing it, Barack’s out there doing it and don’t count out John Edwards,” Brazile said.

Among those who have left the Clinton camp, Carmen Ashhurst, who hosted a house party in support of Obama in Eastchester, N.Y., said she backed Clinton until a dust-up with Hollywood producer David Geffen.

After Geffen was critical of the Clintons, the Clinton campaign asked Obama to denounce his remarks and return his donations.