2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Black Democrats face tough choice in Tuesday's primary

 

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ANGELA DELLI SANTI
Associated Press Writer
2/2/08 AP Alert


New Jersey's Democratic black voters face an especially tough choice in Tuesday's primary with a respected Clinton and an inspiring African American candidate in the race.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama both have stepped up their campaigns in New Jersey, with Obama scheduled to make a last-minute push for votes Monday in north Jersey and Bill Clinton having hosted a rally for his wife in south Jersey just last week.

The state is significant to both candidates because the state's 107 Democratic delegates at stake in Tuesday's primary are awarded proportionally, according to candidate vote totals in specially designated districts and statewide. So, even if Clinton retains her consistent lead in polls and wins New Jersey, Obama could still pick up some needed delegates.

"Gender and race will play a part, but I think the predominant factor for all the voters will be who they think will be the best candidate," said the Rev. Reginald Jackson, director of the Black Ministers Council, an influential statewide group of church leaders.

The council makes no endorsement as a group. However, Jackson, who declared his support for Clinton early on, explained the unique struggle the choice posed for black voters like him.

"It was a very difficult choice," said Jackson, who called Obama a "terrific" candidate, but said: "I think she is the best."

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, an earnest Obama campaigner, believes the U.S. senator's message of hope and change transcends race.

"I think what he's doing is simply speaking with a voice that resonates to the deeper core of humanity, a deeper spirit of America that's within all of us," Booker said.

Democrats will make history with either candidate. Clinton would be the first woman chosen as the party's nominee for president, and Obama would be the first black person in that role.

"For women and African Americans, this is a historic election," said Joseph Marbach, acting dean of the college of arts and sciences at Seton Hall University. "Undoubtedly, a significant segment of both populations will vote accordingly."

However, the Rev. J. Stanley Justice, pastor of Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Trenton, said his congregants looked beyond skin color in choosing a candidate to back.

"A lot of the members are willing to give Obama a chance, number one because he is someone different," said Justice. "When you consider that we have had eight years of Bushes and eight years of Clintons, their feeling is it may be time to get someone different. It does not hinge on the race factor. It's more so about his being different from what we have been seeing in the White House."

Poll numbers indicate gender and race will be significant Tuesday, when New Jersey and 21 other states hold primaries or caucuses.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Jan. 23 had Clinton retaining a double-digit lead in New Jersey, which included support from 54 percent of the women surveyed, twice as many as Obama. However, Obama had two-thirds of the black vote, according to the same poll.

While black voters overwhelmingly supported Bill Clinton in his 1992 and 1996 presidential bids, that vote has been fractured this year as many key black leaders endorsed Obama.

In New Jersey, prominent Democrats are split.

Gov. Jon Corzine, Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez support Clinton. Former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, Sen. President Dick Codey and Rep. Steve Rothman back Obama.

Female and black leaders are also fragmented. For example, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman and Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer support Clinton, while Booker and Sens. Shirley Turner and Loretta Weinberg support Obama.

"What's great is that we have candidates that transcend gender and race," said Palmer, Trenton's five-term mayor. "What's been happening is almost like racial profiling. People just assume that since I'm a black man I'm for Obama. Some get mad because I'm not. I find that insulting."

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