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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Starting today, we're broadcasting live from ETV in Columbia, South Carolina. The Democratic primary is just days away and the state is blanketed with politicians and the celebrities who've endorsed them. Nearly half of the voters expected to go to the polls on Saturday are likely to be African-Americans. But is this primary a test of racial loyalty, or for black women a tug-of-war between gender and race?

Well, yesterday, we went to the historically African-American Benedict College here in Columbia. In addition to students both decided and undecided, we also found two actors stumping for Senator Barack Obama.

Unidentified Woman #1: And without further ado, Chris Tucker and Kerry Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. CHRIS TUCKER (Actor): I'm happy to be here, but I want to give you - give yourselves a round of applause for showing up…

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. TUCKER: …being concerned and go out to vote for Barack Obama, right?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. TUCKER: Who are you at?

Ms. KERRY WASHINGTON (Actor): I think that what our job is as young people, what your job is as young people is to make politics sexy. I'm not kidding. I'm going to say sexy in a church because this is really important.

CHIDEYA: We got a chance to catch up with Kerry Washington after the event. She's appeared in movies, including "The Fantastic Four," and she shared with us that her choice to endorse Senator Obama did not come easily.

Ms. WASHINGTON: It's been a really tough decision for me, you know, because I'm a feminist, I consider myself a feminist, I always will be and I, you know, I kept feeling that, who do I owe my loyalty more, you know? Is it Hillary? Is it Barack, you know? Where do I - where should my allegiance be? And then, I had to really step back and go, this is not about identity. This is about values and principles and, you know, a track record, a belief system. I mean, that's -and I don't mean a religious belief system. I mean a political belief system. And, you know, that to me, that made me turn toward Barack Obama because I feel like if I put all race and gender aside, who's actually able to lead us all, all of us, as a nation? Who I think is best for me and my nation?

CHIDEYA: Preston Simmons is in his junior year at Benedict and he's undecided. The communications major agrees that race and gender should not determine who you vote for.

Mr. PRESTON SIMMONS (Communications Student, Benedict College): I'm not one that really go, make decisions on race or gender because I think it's pretty biased, and I think it's ignorant, to be quite honest with you. If you're making an important decision, especially when it comes down to our country, on race, on gender - it's ignorant.

CHIDEYA: Preston is clear about what motivates him to vote.

Mr. SIMMONS: The major issues are important to me. I have to say it's health care, for one. The two candidates that I am choosing from, they do have good healthcare plans, but unfortunately, one does leave a lot of people out of health care. Another does promise to make it free, but I don't think that's - I don't think it's possible, to be quite honest with you. And another would be education as well, one (unintelligible) I mean money. As far as student loans go, everybody wants to make these loans, the interest rate lower or none. But this whole - hopefully, they make that happen to somebody real soon.

CHIDEYA: Ashley Brown(ph) is a political science major. She plans to vote for Barack Obama and believes that most of the Benedict College students also support the senator from Illinois.

Ms. ASHLEY BROWN (Political Science Student, Benedict College): On Benedict campus, there are more students that's leaning towards Barack than Hillary because the students here are so passionate about Barack they go to our dorm room doors, knock, inform us about Barack. I mean, we have really stronger supporters of Barack in Benedict campus. Barack, I believe, he's bringing out the young generation, because out of all of them, I believe he is more with our generation than anybody else. He can relate to the young generation more than anybody else.

CHIDEYA: And Tayneshia Williams(ph) is a chemistry major and another undecided voter. For her, the issue is experience.

Ms. TAYNESHIA WILLIAMS (Chemistry Student, Benedict College): I will vote for Hillary because she has more experience and she's been around the White House for so long. And Senator Obama - he kind of scares me because he hasn't that as much experience, but he seems like a politician that I could relate to, so that's why I'm kind of leaning towards him, but not exactly sure.

CHIDEYA: The students we spoke with said they won't make up their minds until they get in the voting booth. Tomorrow, we'll talk to more college students about the issues motivating them to the polls.

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