Black women could swing S.C. Dem primary

Black women could swing S.C. Dem primary

By: Aaron Gould Sheinin –
Sep 17, 2007 07:27 PM EST

Hillary Clinton

Huffmon said the results show “early on, African-Americans threw their support to Hillary Clinton, primarily based on the Clinton legacy” established by the former president.
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The key to winning South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary will be winning over undecided black women, a new poll suggests.

A Winthrop/ETV poll of black South Carolinians, released Thursday, shows U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois narrowly leading Hillary Clinton of New York among all black people surveyed who say they will vote.

However, more than a third of black women said they were undecided about whom to vote for in the state’s Jan. 29 Democratic presidential primary.

Only one other Democratic candidate — Seneca native John Edwards — broke 1 percent in the poll of black South Carolinians. The former U.S. senator from North Carolina had the support of 3 percent of those surveyed.

Polls of all S.C. Democrats, regardless of race, show Clinton leading by an average of nearly 12 percentage points over Obama, with Edwards in third.

Republicans drew almost no support from the almost 700 S.C. black people surveyed.

Despite South Carolina’s history of voting Republican in presidential elections — no Democrat has won the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — the state’s Democratic primary is important.

It is the first Southern primary and the first in a state with a major black population, a key Democratic constituency. About half of all votes cast in the S.C. Democratic primary are expected to come from black people.

Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon designed the poll with Adolphus Belk Jr, Winthrop’s co-director of African-American studies. Huffmon said the results show “early on, African-Americans threw their support to Hillary Clinton, primarily based on the Clinton legacy” established by the senator’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.

But, Huffmon said, as black South Carolinians have come to know Obama, his support has increased significantly.

The Clinton-Obama contest pits the strong positive feelings many black South Carolinians have toward former President Clinton against the excitement surrounding Obama, whose father was African.

“The real tipping point in the Democratic primary may be undecided African-American female voters,” Huffmon said. “If Obama and Clinton run neck and neck in every other category, black females could easily be the tipping point.”

Among all black people surveyed, Obama has the support of 35.4 percent; Clinton, 30.7 percent; and Edwards, 3 percent. However, 28.7 percent of those surveyed were undecided, a huge potential voting bloc the Democratic candidates can be expected to target.

Among men, Obama dominates. He has the support of 42.4 percent of black men to Clinton’s 30.5 percent. Only about a fifth of black men are undecided.

Black women are clearly more conflicted.

Clinton has the support of 30.9 percent of black women and Obama, 30.6 percent. However, the largest group of black women — 33.8 percent — is undecided.

Obama spokesman Kevin Griffis downplayed the results of polls four months before the S.C. primary.

“Honestly, we’re not paying that much attention to them and we’re really focused right now on building what we continue to think is an unprecedented grassroots movement that is going to engage people in a way that South Carolinians haven’t been engaged before,” he said.

Clinton spokesman Zac Wright said the poll reflects Clinton’s emphasis on building a winning S.C. network.

“Hillary’s grass-roots support continues to push the campaign forward, but the only poll that matters is the one on Jan. 29,” Wright said. “In our state and across the country, people are calling for change and for a candidate with the experience to make that change a reality; that’s why Hillary’s momentum continues to grow.”

Larvine Parker, 83, of James Island, supports Clinton. Parker said former President Bill Clinton has a lot to do with her choice.

Of Obama, Parker said, “I don’t know enough about that guy. But I know Senator Hillary Clinton. She’s a real good woman. And her husband was a darn good president.”

Nancy Rivers, 34, of Bamberg County, supports Edwards.

“Barack Obama, I respect him, just like the other candidates. But for me, with John Edwards having run (for vice president in 2004) with John Kerry, I feel like he has more experience in terms of the campaign and his personal convictions,” said Rivers, a student at Denmark Technical College.

Rivers said she rejects the stereotype she should support Obama because she is black or Clinton because she’s a woman. “There has to be more to it than that,” she said.

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