Obama, Clinton Target Maryland's Black Vote

The state of Maryland, where voters head to the polls Tuesday, presents an interesting test for the Democratic rivals for president. So far, Barack Obama has won states with substantial numbers of black voters. But Hillary Clinton is not ready to cede Maryland.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne. Senator Barack Obama can now add Maine to his weekend sweep of presidential contests in Washington State, Louisiana and Nebraska.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee took Louisiana and Kansas. John McCain won in Washington. Tomorrow the presidential race expands across the Potomac as Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia hold primaries. In Maryland, Obama and Hillary Clinton have been working hard to win the 70 delegates up for grabs.

NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

Unidentified Woman #1: Hi, how are you?

Unidentified Woman #2: Good.

Unidentified Woman #3: I'm from the Obama campaign.

ALLISON KEYES: Three volunteers stood, smiling, at a voter's door in a townhouse subdivision in Laurel, Maryland.

Unidentified Woman #3: Sounds like you have your mind made up.

Unidentified Woman #4: That's all right. Yeah.

Unidentified Woman #3: Well, here you go.

KEYES: The volunteers went door-to-door in this mostly black and Latino neighborhood. Two young men from one house wanted to know what was going on.

Unidentified Man #1: Did they win something?

Unidentified Woman #3: Yeah, well hopefully.

Unidentified Woman #1: If you vote for Obama.

Unidentified Woman #3: Yeah, just like you.

KEYES: Forty-nine year old Curtis Gibson has been listening carefully to both candidates and he's liked some of what he's heard, but he's pretty much decided to vote for Barack Obama, even though he gave Hillary Clinton serious consideration.

Mr. CURTIS GIBSON: I like her positions. I like what she's saying. I think that it's - that she is still a part of that system.

KEYES: The thing that strikes observers about Obama's volunteers is their enthusiasm. Chatting Obama workers swept in and out of a Coffee Perk in College Park, headquarters for people being sent out to canvas the surrounding area. University of Maryland senior Lauren Smith tossed her blond hair as she talked about why she went and knocked on strangers' doors.

Ms. LAUREN SMITH (Obama Volunteer): Knowing that having a bumper sticker on my car and putting a button on my backpack or donating money wasn't enough to - I didn't feel like that was gonna be enough, because if he doesn't win, I would feel terrible.

KEYES: A small but earnest crowd of Clinton supporters attended an upscale gathering at a huge house in the Brandywine neighborhood of - wait for it - Clinton, Maryland. Most in the crowd were African American, including homeowner Bernard Wright. In 2006, he was Clinton's chief check officer for her Senate reelection campaign. He's now in the private sector and his support for Clinton remains rock solid.

Mr. BERNARD WRIGHT (Clinton Supporter): And I was always saying that people needed to get to know Hillary. You know, if people got to know Hillary, then they would love her. You know, just like I did. You know, I thought she was gonna be this cold, calculating, stuck-up woman, and I was just surprised to see that she really is just like me and you. You know, so I mean she really makes you feel comfortable, and people need to see that.

KEYES: Still, like several others here, Wright admits he's being pressured by black friends to support Obama. Kendall Bryan and his African-Americans for Clinton button has run into the same thing, but he's not going for it.

Mr. KENDALL BRYAN (Clinton Supporter): I was undecided for a very long time, very long time, and you know, I get a lot of pressure to support Mr. Obama, who I love. I think he's an excellent candidate, but I chose Hillary Clinton for a number of reasons, very specific reasons. She has already talked about specifically she wants to double the amount of money going to black colleges and universities. As a graduate of a black college university, I certainly support that. It's a very important issue to me.

KEYES: People at the party and campaign operatives for Clinton admit it's an uphill battle for her in Maryland. The campaign has been targeting groups that have supported Clinton in the past, like the elderly, blue collar union workers and people of color, even though Obama has strong support in the latter group. Obama's camp says he's focus on the areas around Washington D.C. and Baltimore, but stresses that he's also reaching out to more conservative and rural areas, like the eastern shore and western Maryland. But both campaigns are hoping to energize the undecided voters, like 22 year old Davian Percy. He went to the Clinton party even though he's still on the fence.

Mr. DAVIAN PERCY: It is a very exciting time in politics for America right now, for the Democratic Party, from the state level down to the local and the county level, so I am very excited. I have never been more interested in politics in my entire life.

KEYES: Percy predicts eight years of prosperity for the nation no matter which Democrat wins.

Allison Keyes, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: