Texas Women Reflect Shift in Political Sentiments

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One group of suburban-dwelling black moms loves the idea of a black man and a woman competing for the Democratic presidential nomination. The other group might be called the Ladies Who Lunch, and they like Barack, Hillary and McCain, too. Or at least some of them do. NPR's Linda Wertheimer gets an earful from Houston area women.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Hillary Clinton is counting on strong support from women in Tuesday's Ohio and Texas primaries to help her and Barack Obama's long string of wins.

But as NPR's Linda Wertheimer reports from Houston, there are some shifting sentiments in the Lone Star State.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: We met a group of stay-at-home moms at the home of Jane Curtis(ph) in an old and beautiful neighborhood of Houston. Curving streets shaded by live oak trees. Many of these women put careers on hold - lawyer, landscaper, track coach. Many of them began as political (unintelligible) thinking that by the time Texas voted Hillary Clinton would already be the nominee.

One guest, Terri Alexander(ph), still hopes that will happen.

Ms. TERRI ALEXANDER (Hillary Clinton Supporter): I'm voting for Hillary. I've been wanting to vote for her for a long time. So, to me, she has learned really how to work a compromise. And this is improvements I've seen in her, so I'm so happy that she's actually making the run.

WERTHEIMER: But Barack Obama is making inroads in Texas, and among these women who are weighing their options. Denise Smith(ph) says she's leaning toward Obama but she wonders who his close advisors will be.

Ms. DENISE SMITH (Resident, Texas): I think we all know who Hillary can call on and will. You know, that's good and bad, I think.

WERTHEIMER: Helen, you want to…

Ms. HELEN CHAMBERS(ph) (Resident, Texas): Yeah. Just the idea of Bill Clinton back in office via his wife or the American public, it just, I don't want any more Bushes and I don't want any more Clintons. I think it's time for a fresh start. So, you know, that's one reason why I really don't want to vote for Hillary is the fact that Bill would be riding on her tails again.

WERTHEIMER: But where does that leave you?

Ms. CHAMBERS: I'm undecided. If I could take a little smattering of McCain's tax issues - although he has admitted that he's not really too sure about how the economy works, so that's not a very good…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHAMBERS: That didn't really sell me on him and I'm a Republican and you want someone to know how money works. If you could take some of those and then you could take some decent healthcare answers and put them in Obama, I'd have my man.

WERTHEIMER: That last speaker was Helen Chambers. Our hostess, Jane Curtis, has decided whom she's voting for.

Ms. JANE CURTIS (Resident, Texas): Hillary Clinton is an amazing person. I think she has worked extraordinarily hard to accomplish what she's accomplished, to stay cool under fire. I admire her and I'm not going to vote for her. I am so happy every time Barack Obama says something about, you know, parents turn off the television and turn off the video games and get up - and parent.

And I think the fact that people are streaming into polling places all over the country that are excited about voting for him, that's what's important. It's not so much him. That excitement, I think, is a very tangible, powerful thing.

WERTHEIMER: The change Jane Curtis hopes for is a cultural shift, a new national relationship, a redefined future. The future was also a preoccupation among the women we talked to in a western suburb of Houston called Cinco Ranch, where we went to a birthday party at a French bakery.

(Soundbite of singing "Happy Birthday")

WERTHEIMER: Gia Edwards(ph) had a 34-minute party because she was turning 34 and because that was just about as much free time as this mother of four could spare.

Ms. GIA EDWARDS (Resident, Houston, Texas): Who wants cake? It's the yellow cake but it has chocolate ganache 'cause, you know, I don't do anything without chocolate.

WERTHEIMER: Gia Edwards said she had supported Hillary Clinton until the senator began to annoy her. One of her guests - all of them African-American moms - said she would choose Clinton over any candidate but Obama. Tanja(ph) Roman picked Obama because she has three black sons.

Ms. TANGA ROMAN (Resident, Texas): I think it would mean so much for young black men and young black women to see the first African-American president.

WERTHEIMER: Yvette Howard(ph) says she has two fears. One is that the Democrats could lose the election if people vote against Obama because he's black.

Ms. YVETTE HOWARD (Resident, Texas): And my second concern - I almost hate to verbalize it - is - I hesitate to say it - but that he would be assassinated. But you have to take into account that there are people, silent, quiet, you know, sick with hatred over race in this country. There still are.

WERTHEIMER: Is it a reason, I mean, with change, anything, that you would do?

Ms. EDWARDS : No. he's made the choice. It's not going to stop me from voting for him. Do I think that he shouldn't run because he's black and feel somebody might kill him? No. We can't stop change out of fear.

WERTHEIMER: That last speaker was Gia Edwards. These suburban moms are guardedly optimistic about Barack Obama. I asked Edwards if she thinks he can deliver on the promises he makes in his speeches. He believes it, she said. I think he has about a good a chance as anybody.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Houston.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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