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Obama's Surging Black Support

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Obama's Surging Black Support

Post by ~Joy~ on January 17th 2008, 5:26 pm

Obama's Surging Black Support May Tilt South Carolina Primary

By Heidi Przybyla

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- A Barack Obama sticker decorates the bumper of Helen Quarles's car. It fit neatly over the Hillary Clinton decal Quarles, a retired auto worker from McCormick, South Carolina, displayed until recently.

Quarles, a 69-year-old African-American, once was a Clinton volunteer. Her shift to Obama is part of a trend among black voters that may cause problems for Clinton, the national front- runner in the Democratic presidential race.

With South Carolina due to hold its Democratic primary Jan. 26 and blacks expected to account for 50 percent of party ballots, polls show Obama now leading Clinton.

Patricia Clark, a 47-year-old administrative assistant from Charleston, said she has vacillated between Clinton, 60, and the senator from Illinois and now leans toward Obama. Though ``Hillary's been there for us,'' she said, ``I'm looking for someone who can make some changes.''

South Carolina illustrates a broader shift in states with large concentrations of black Democrats. On Feb. 5, several states with big black populations, including Georgia and Alabama, where more than 40 percent of Democratic primary voters are black, hold nominating contests.

Iowa Breakthrough

Obama's triumph in the Iowa caucuses was a catalyst for the change in sentiment, political analysts say, because it demonstrated he can garner white support and compete in the general election.

``Now I'm voting my heart, with Obama,'' said Cheryl Ewing, a 47-year-old program manager from Philadelphia. Only six weeks ago at a focus group conducted by pollster Peter Hart, Ewing, who is black, said she was in Clinton camp's because America wouldn't vote for a black president. ``Iowa made me change my mind.''

National and state polls show a dramatic reversal in support among African-Americans in recent months. Obama now leads Clinton among blacks nationwide, 57 percent to 32 percent, according to a Jan. 10-13 USA Today/Gallup poll. Less than two months ago, Clinton was ahead in the same survey 56 percent to 33 percent.

In state polls, Obama is also beating Clinton among blacks, leading by 23 percentage points in South Carolina, according to the most recent Rasmussen Reports survey. He's ahead by 38 percentage points among Maryland blacks and by 39 points in Georgia, according to polls by the Baltimore Sun and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Blacks remain a minority, so their strong support doesn't guarantee him a win in those states. The troubling news for Obama's camp is that he has attracted just 13 percent support from white Democrats in Georgia.

`First Black President'

Still, the Clinton team a few months ago had been banking on competing equally with Obama among blacks. Nobel-Prize winning author Toni Morrison, an African-American, has hailed Clinton's husband, Bill, as ``the first black president.''

In addition to Obama's Iowa win, recent controversies over comments by Hillary Clinton about the civil-rights era have also benefited Obama. Clinton said just before the New Hampshire primary that racial equality was achieved only when Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Some blacks interpreted that as slighting the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Much of Obama's ``rise in the polls has to be attributed to African-American voters,'' said Steve Benjamin, chairman of the Richland County, South Carolina, Democratic Party and an Obama backer. ``They see he has a great chance of winning.''

Second Look

In South Carolina, Obama, 46, is getting a second look from many blacks. For Quarles, the switch came after she heard talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Obama's wife, Michelle, speak in Columbia last month about the candidate's humble beginnings. ``He knows more about middle-class people,'' said Quarles.

Voters like Quarles notwithstanding, Clinton still enjoys support among older black women, who tend to vote in greater numbers than other demographic groups.

``You see a black, intelligent man and that image of a shining star is there,'' said Bernice Scott, a 63-year-old woman who sits on the Richland County Council and supports Clinton. ``But people now are looking at substance; I have never seen anyone who's worked as hard as she's worked on issues.''

Scott says she's part of a group of 35 mostly black women who meet regularly over fish and grits. They're so committed to Clinton that they recently packed yard signs and tennis shoes in their cars before attending a funeral so they could maximize their time canvassing.

`Crown Jewel'

There's a gender gap in the black community. While many black men back Obama, a fair percentage of women remain undecided, said Scott Huffmon, polling director at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. ``Undecided African- American women are going to be the crown jewel,'' Huffmon said.

Canvassing older black women on the streets of Charleston and Columbia, it is evident that Obama's rapid ascent has allayed some fears that whites will shun him.

``I was surprised he won Iowa,'' said Miriam Reid, a 66- year-old retired store manager from Moncks Corner who attended an Obama rally in Charleston last week.

Desiree Rogers, an African-American Obama supporter who is president of Chicago-based People's Energy Corp.'s two utility subsidiaries, said Obama's surge is generating cash from a once- hesitant black establishment. Rogers expected 200 people at a Jan. 10 fundraiser she hosted and wound up with 500.

``More and more people are saying, `We can do this,''' Rogers, 48, said. Blacks are ``putting their money behind this.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Heidi Przybyla in Charleston at hprzybyla@bloomberg.net

Number of posts : 32
Age : 40
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Registration date : 2008-01-15

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