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Clinton's endorsement list debatable

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton's support from South Carolina's black religious leaders may not be quite as extensive as her campaign suggests.
Clinton 2008 Ministers
Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., takes the stage with area church members during a campaign stop Tuesday, in Spartanburg, S.C.Mary Ann Chastain / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton's support from South Carolina's black religious leaders may not be quite as extensive as her campaign suggests.

Clinton got a boost last week when she shared a South Carolina stage with dozens of supporters, accepting what organizers said were endorsements from nearly 90 ministers in the state. But an Associated Press review of an endorsement list supplied by the New York senator's campaign found that some of the backers were affiliated with religious ministries and outreach groups rather than churches, some were wives of ministers, two were church elders and at least two were not members of the churches listed beside their names.

All told, about 50 different groups were represented, rather than more than 80 congregations as initially implied, the review found.

Clinton spokesman Zac Wright said the campaign never claimed the endorsements represented separate congregations and knew all along that some came from the same organization.

"It shows diversity if you have both a senior pastor of a church and also a minister over the women's ministry, for example," he said Tuesday.

In this early primary state where nearly half of Democratic voters are black, endorsements from black church leaders can carry significant weight.

Barack Obama's Democratic presidential campaign announced its own list of endorsements from black clergy in the state Tuesday, releasing a list of what it said were 122 senior pastors and three associate pastors of different churches and ministries, including four people it noted as retired.

The AP is reviewing that list.

The Clinton campaign initially said more than 80 ministers from the northern part of the state were in the room when the endorsements were announced Nov. 27, but it could not identify everyone on the stage with Clinton. Organizers for the event said 88 were there. The New York senator said later that day she was told the number may have climbed to nearly 100.

"There was more support there than what we could have anticipated, so it took a little longer to get the finite list," Wright said Tuesday. "Everyone signed in as a minister endorsing Hillary."

After being asked for names of the ministers, Clinton's campaign first released a partial list of 44 names. A day later, a list of 82 names was released. That included one name that was repeated twice, several misspelled names, churches listed in the wrong city or with an incorrect name, and a dozen people listed without a church affiliation.

The campaign released revised listings Monday, supplying church affiliations for those left blank and correcting affiliations for others, trimming the list to 81 names.

A review Tuesday of the sign-in sheets showed supporters initially signed separate endorsement forms, giving their names, addresses, phone numbers and occupations. But after those ran out, Wright said, they began signing a single line on a page. Many signed only their names, without affiliations. Some were difficult to read. Some signed both forms. Wright said that's why a complete, accurate list was so difficult to provide.

Wright said the campaign will be "more prepared for exceeding expectations" for any future endorsements.

Many of those who signed the full forms noted they had jobs other than "minister," including a real estate agent, accountant, graphic designer and store owner. One showed dual jobs as "minister of the gospel/maintenance mechanic."

The revisions note two people on the list are ministers at a church that has congregation members in South Carolina, but is located in Asheville, N.C. - 50 miles from the state line.

Among the earlier discrepancies was a minister identified as Freddy Foster Jr. with Fairview Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Chesnee. But Fairview's real minister said Foster is not even a member there, although his parents were. Clinton's campaign said Foster attended the event but accidentally signed in as a minister.

Isaac McJimpsey Jr. signed in as a minister of Evangel Cathedral of Spartanburg, but a secretary at the church said none of its records showed even a visit by a person with that name. On Monday, Clinton's campaign said McJimpsey was a minister at Bridge Builders Church in Duncan. When no listing was found by a church of that name, the campaign said Tuesday that McJimpsey leads the nonprofit Impact Ministries.

McJimpsey did not return a telephone call for comment.

The wives of at least two pastors were on the campaign's list, including Colleen Brown of Cleveland Chapel Baptist in Spartanburg. Wright -said if wives were listed, they're ordained ministers. But the Rev. Timothy Brown said his wife is not ordained.

"If they're an active minister and part of a ministry, their churches', their faith traditions' rules about ordinations and ordination practices are within the church," Wright said.

New Birth Kingdom of Spartanburg seemed to have the most representatives endorsing Clinton. After the revisions, the campaign's "minister endorsements" list has eight people from New Birth, including its lead pastor, the Rev. Sharome Gentry.

Clinton and her Democratic rivals, especially Obama, are courting South Carolina's critical black vote. In 2004, nearly half the party's primary voters were black. An AP-Pew Research Poll this week found Clinton breaking even with Obama among black voters.