Sun, Sep 16, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Hillary Clinton targets the black vote with Magic

DIVIDED Barack Obama could be the first African-American president, but Senator Clinton benefits from her husband's popularity among blacks


US presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, and Earvin ``Magic'' Johnson high-five after an audience member called Clinton ``attractive'' during a question and answer session at King/Drew Magnet High School for Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, California, on Friday.


Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton pursued votes in Los Angeles' historical black heartland with basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson at her side, less than a week after rival Barack Obama banked US$3 million at a fundraiser at talk show host Oprah Winfrey's seaside estate.

For the two leading Democratic presidential contenders, the dueling events highlighted the stiff competition for support and money within one of the party's key voter groups -- blacks.

Johnson, the former Los Angeles Lakers star whose sprawling business interests range from movie theaters to health clubs, also held a fundraiser for Clinton at his Beverly Hills home on Friday night. It was expected to be considerably smaller than the lavish event staged by Winfrey for Obama, an Illinois senator, on Sept. 8.

Johnson's fundraiser was co-hosted by music industry heavyweights Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy and Clarence Avant, and scheduled guests included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is a co-chair of the Clinton campaign. Guests at the Obama event included Sidney Poitier, Forest Whitaker and Chris Rock.

The divided loyalties among blacks show "the community just isn't going to go lockstep behind any candidate, even a black one," said University of California, Los Angeles, political scientist Franklin Gilliam Jr.

When it comes to competing celebrity endorsements, "I don't know if anybody stands equal with Oprah," Gilliam said. But Clinton is not conceding the black vote to Obama and "she can compete for it in a legitimate way."

Obama, whose late father was Kenyan, gives blacks a chance to put one of their own in the White House for the first time. But Clinton benefits from the strong relationship her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, maintained with blacks for years.

"People in the black community love Bill Clinton; she's seen as comfortable in the community," Gilliam said. And "there's concern about Obama being electable, period, because he's black."

Obama has predicted that black voter turnout would swell by at least 30 percent if he wins the presidential nomination, giving Democrats a victory in southern states that have been voting Republican for decades.

Asked last month why she would be a better candidate for blacks when Obama was in the race, Clinton cited her years of public service and advocacy, and described herself as the more experienced candidate.

"My attitude is, I don't deserve anyone's vote. I have to earn everyone's vote," she said.

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