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Obama takes his campaign to Harlem

Barack Obama’s fund-raiser in Harlem was the Democrat's first in the historic seat of black cultural and political power since he announced his presidential candidacy.
/ Source: The New York Times

Senator Barack Obama held a fund-raiser in Harlem last night, his first event in the historic seat of black cultural and political power since he announced his Democratic presidential candidacy and a place where Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton enjoys wide popularity.

After hearing from a gospel choir, a jazz combo, the comedian Chris Rock and others, the racially mixed audience of more than 1,500 people at the Apollo Theater broke into loud applause when Mr. Obama appeared from behind the theater’s red curtain.

“I love you, Obama!” a woman shouted from the audience. “I love you back,” he said without missing a beat.

Mr. Obama’s address had a familiar topic: the need for change.

“All across America, people are struggling like they haven’t struggled in a long time,” he said. “It’s harder to save; it’s harder to retire.”

He added, “All across the nation, people have lost faith that their leaders can and will do anything about it.”

Mr. Obama did not mention Mrs. Clinton by name, but appeared to refer to her several times. “I’m not running to fulfill some long held plans,” he said. “I’m not running because I feel it’s owed to me.”

The event, held in what is perhaps Harlem’s most famous landmark, was symbolic not only because of the site but also because it took place in Mrs. Clinton’s backyard — and at a theater only a few blocks west on 125th Street from the offices of former President Bill Clinton.

The political division in Harlem is apparent even among the Apollo Theater’s board of directors. While Nadja Fidelia, who is also a managing director at Lehman Brothers, has raised at least $50,000 for Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton’s supporters on the board include Quincy Jones, the music producer, and Edward Lewis, chairman and founder of Essence Communications.

While Mrs. Clinton is expected to win New York’s primary on Feb. 5, Democrats split their delegates proportionally, so Mr. Obama believes he can win enough delegates in the state to make a difference in a tight race.

Michelle Obama, Mr. Obama’s wife, played host to a women’s event in Harlem in June, and Mr. Obama has traveled to New York City frequently since declaring his candidacy in February, including holding a large rally at Washington Square Park in September.

Despite his being regarded as the African-American with the best chance in history of winning a major political party’s nomination, public opinion polls show Mr. Obama trailing Mrs. Clinton among black voters, particularly women.

Mrs. Obama said in an interview with MSNBC this month that she did not believe Mrs. Clinton would maintain her lead among African-Americans and that eventually “Black America will wake up and get it.”

Mrs. Obama added, “But what we’re dealing with in the black community is just the natural fear of possibility.”

Mr. Obama has also had some difficulty winning the support of an older generation of African-American politicians, including in New York. Representative Charles B. Rangel and former Mayor David N. Dinkins have endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and the Rev. Al Sharpton has made no endorsement.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has endorsed Mr. Obama, wrote an op-ed article in The Chicago Sun-Times this month that with the exception of John Edwards, the Democratic candidates “have virtually ignored the plight of black Americans in this country.”