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."