Black women emerge as unique primary demographic

Saturday, February 2, 2008 | 4:38 p.m. CST; updated 2:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — In the midst of a landmark Democratic primary that features a woman and a black man as the top contenders for the party’s nomination, perhaps the most interesting voter demographic is that of black women.

In Columbia, several black women said they are leaning toward either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, but the reasons for their choices run the gamut. As black women go to the polls this Tuesday, it’s clear their votes will be determined by more than a candidate’s gender or the color of his or her skin. But, nearly all those interviewed by the Missourian share a single feeling.

They want change.

Cornelia Garrett feels that with this unprecedented choice of candidates, she can make no wrong decision.

“Either way, I’m a winner,” she said.

While Clinton and Obama are popular choices among the black women interviewed, they cited different issues as priorities, including health-care and the economy. For Valerie Shaw, ending the war in Iraq is paramount.

“It’s important that Obama has always hoped for an alternative to war,” Shaw said during a telephone interview, but she added it’s still possible she’ll choose Clinton. Others, including Crystal Woods, said ending the war is a top priority.

For Caroll ZuBolton, who talked about the election during an evening interview at the J.W. “Blind” Boone Center, the main issue is poverty. She spent a lot of time criticizing the government response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where she has family, and she said it’s time to elect a president who will help the black community.

“I was leaning towards John Edwards for awhile because he was the candidate that was talking about poverty,” ZuBolton said. “Now that he’s out of the race, I’m definitely going to vote for Barack Obama because I feel he’s the more decent candidate.”

The camps seemed far more divided when it came to discussing Clinton. Many respect her as the first female candidate with a good chance at winning the presidency but were unsure whether they would cast a ballot for her.

“I was always behind her because she was a strong woman,” said Cornelia Garrett, a new Columbia resident who also discussed the election at the Blind Boone Center.

Some of the women interviewed, however, said they believe Clinton is making too much of a campaign issue out of Obama’s race.

“When (Clinton) says ‘You want to vote for someone who can win,’ to me that’s like indirectly saying a black man can’t be president,” ZuBolton said.

Ladonna Christon said in a telephone interview that it’s a matter of credibility. She finds Obama to be more genuine in his comments and the way he conducts his campaign.

“It boils down to (Obama) being more believable than Hillary.”

Frustration with the election process has led two of the women interviewed to decide not to vote.

Latoya Lambert, who at 18 would have the chance to cast her first presidential ballot, said she won’t bother. She figures the electoral college would ultimately pick the president.

“It doesn’t matter how I vote,” Lambert said.

So, with only days left before Super Tuesday, when Missouri will join 22 other states in helping pick the party nominees, it’s clear that black women are still deciding.

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