Obama faces uphill fight for Houston black vote

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HAT TIP : By BENNETT ROTH and KRISTEN MACK
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle  

As Sen. Barack Obama gets set to campaign for president in Houston, local political leaders and voters reflect the national surveys showing that he has no early lock on the black vote, which could play a key role in next year’s Texas Democratic primary.

Linzy Hughes, 94, one of several black voters interviewed at lunch Tuesday at the Family Cafe, a political crossroads near downtown Houston, said America is not ready for a black president and he will support Hillary Clinton, if he “make(s) 95,” simply because he thinks she has a better chance of winning.

On the other hand, Obama’s relative youth and outlook appeal to Carroll Robinson, a former Houston councilman and associate dean of external affairs at Texas Southern University.

Robinson, who is 45, the same age as the presidential contender, said he did not experience the John F. Kennedy “phenomenon” firsthand, but he likened the enthusiasm for the late president to the way younger voters feel now about Obama.

“He engenders the belief that America can be better,” said Robinson. “Obama has helped broaden the prism and the conversation. We need someone who the electorate will give a mandate from the center.”

Obama, in his first term as a senator from Illinois, has enlivened this preliminary phase of the presidential contest as a charismatic candidate with bi-racial roots and a message of optimism.

On Thursday, a select group of Houstonians will have a chance to get better acquainted with Obama at a $2,300-a-person campaign fundraiser at the Museum District residence of energy executive Robert Cavnar and his wife, Gracie.

Later that evening Obama is scheduled to drop by a less-expensive fundraising event for younger voters at the Communications Workers of America hall downtown.

On Friday, Obama is scheduled to speak at the University of Texas at Austin at an afternoon event open to the public.

‘A wise young man’

In speeches, Obama mentions his commitment to civil rights. But his talks are more centered on issues such as his opposition to the war in Iraq and overcoming cynicism in politics.

His approach appeals to Faye Lewis, 57, who paused to chat at the Family Cafe.

“He’s a wise young man. … I think he can cross racial (voting) lines,” she said.

However, some Texas observers said there is also tentativeness among black voters, who worry about his experience and ability to get elected.

“A lot of folks don’t know who he is,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas chapter of the NAACP.

Black voters in Texas could be influential in determining the outcome of next year’s Democratic presidential primary, particularly if the Legislature moves up the primary election date a month, to Feb. 5.

Black voters made up about 40 percent of the primary electorate in the last highly competitive Democratic primary in the state in 2002, said Bob Stein, professor of political science at Rice University.

Trails former first lady

But while Obama has been drawing large enthusiastic crowds since he announced his presidential intentions this month, polls show he trails Clinton among Democratic primary voters.Furthermore, in a recent ABC/Washington Post poll Clinton was garnering the support of 60 percent of black voters, three times the support for Obama.

David Bositis, a scholar who has studied black voting trends at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said many older blacks, particularly in the South, have seen little evidence that black candidates can win on the state or national level.

“African-American voters look at (Obama) and say, ‘Hmm, I don’t think so,’ “ Bositis said.

“I’m an old-timer. I came along at a different time,” said Hughes, one of the diners at Houston’s Family Cafe. “I came of age when things were segregated. Blacks and whites didn’t associate. That’s instilled in me — maybe young people can grow out of that.”

Some black diners indicated that they are much more sophisticated about politics than some assume and no candidate has yet to corral their vote.

“I don’t believe Hillary will command the African-American vote. Nor will the senator (Obama) automatically get it because of the pigmentation of his skin,” said Don Anthony Woods. “The days of predicting how African-Americans will vote are over.”

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Obama raises $1.3 million in star studded L.A. fundraiser

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 Hat tip: Jeffrey Tolson, Hollywood Today

Like a young star with a hot script, Sen. Barack Obama pitched himself at Hollywood talent agencies William Morris and UTA yesterday in a savvy move that was unprecedented for a presidential candidate. The big agencies have direct access to both stars and deep-pocketed filmmakers being courted now by virtually every major candidate.

Obama’s Tinseltown instincts also showed last night as he raised $1.3 million a star-studded fundraiser hosted by DreamWorks honchos Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Celebrity sizzle was provided by attendees including Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Ron Howard and Natalie Maines.Absent were some stars that have previously been counted in Hilary Clinton’s camp such as Tom Hanks, Chris Rock, Jennifer Lopez, Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, setting up a Celebrity Showdown in Hollywood for the democrats. Sen. Clinton will hit Hollywood on Thursday and return March 24 for a big-ticket gala at the home of supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle. Also weaving political spin during Oscar week, which is normally abuzz about statues and gowns, is Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, who will be introduced by Hollywood’s top political muscle, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today while Sen. Joe Biden gets a piece of the pie tonight at a fund-raiser tonight in Beverly Hills.

The money counts as all candidates are on fast-track fundraising due to early primaries in California and other states. The movie, television and recording industries gave $33.1 million to federal candidates and parties in 2004, with much of that coming from Hollywood, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
Obama told the elite audience at the $2,300-a-plate fundraiser that they have “enormous power” that comes with “enormous responsibility” because of their impact on American culture. “Don’t sell yourselves short,” he said in a 25-minute address. “You are the storytellers of our age.” Obama also received checks from studio bosses, including Universal Pictures’ Ron Meyer, Paramount Pictures’ Brad Grey and Walt Disney Studios’ Richard Cook.

Obama vs. Hillary

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 Hat tip: The Fix by Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

In one of the first public contretemps between the two Democratic presidential frontrunners, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York is calling on Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois to break ties with David Geffen after the movie mogul made a string of comments critical of the former first lady.

“If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money,” said Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson.

Over the years the movie producer has given hundreds of thousands in donations to the Democratic Party and its candidates. Geffen gave Obama’s Hopefund PAC a $5,000 contribution in 2006, and he gave Obama’s campaign $2,000 in 2004, according to FEC records (presidential campaign contribution data is not yet available).

Geffen’s comments — made to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd — were spoken on the same day that he, along with film tycoons Jeffrey Katzenberg and Stephen Spielberg hosted a major Hollywood fundraiser for Obama.

In the interview with Dowd, Geffen made derogatory comments about Sen. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Geffen said Republicans believe Hillary Clinton is the “easiest to defeat” in the Democratic arena. He also skewered the senator’s unwillingness to apologize for her 2002 vote favoring the use of force resolution in Iraq.

”It’s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t,” Geffen told Dowd. ”She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.”

Geffen also took a verbal swing at her husband: “‘I don’t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person,” Geffen said, appearing to refer to the controversies surrounding the former president’s private life.

Geffen’s animosity toward the Clintons is traced by Dowd to Bill Clinton’s decision in the final days of his administration not to pardon Native American activist Leonard Peltier. Peltier had been convicted of the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in the late 1970s. Geffen political adviser Andy Spahn had strongly pushed for Peltier’s release, with the approval of his boss.

Since that pardon decision, Geffen has made a number of anti-Clinton comments. In 2005, he said Sen. Clinton couldn’t win the presidency because she was too “polarizing,” adding that “ambition is just not a good enough reason.”

Geffen’s commentary and the ensuring hubbub reveals the risks that any candidate runs when wooing high-dollar donors to their campaigns. These extremely wealthy individuals are used to speaking their minds whenever and however they see fit. It is a difficult task for any campaign to try and rein them in.

In publicly blunting Geffen’s remarks, Clinton is trying to box-in Obama. Obama faces either to keep Geffen on his finance team and run the risk of watching his reformer credentials tarnished in the eyes of party insiders and activists, or jettison him and risk the ire of the well-heeled Hollywood community.

Obama’s campaign didn’t shy away from the fight. “It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln bedroom,” said Obama communications director Robert Gibbs. Gibbs also pointed out that Hillary Clinton had not condemned the comments of South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford. Ford, a Clinton backer, said the Democratic ticket would be “doomed” if Obama was the party’s presidential candidate.

Update, 3:26 p.m. ET: Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson issued the following statement today:

“By refusing to disavow the personal attacks from his biggest fundraiser against Senator Clinton and President Clinton, Senator Obama has called into serious question whether he really believes his own rhetoric. How can Senator Obama denounce the politics of slash & burn yesterday while his own campaign is espousing the politics of trash today?

Hillary Clinton announces endorsements: Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben

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The Clinton campaign announced two prominent celebrity endorsements today.  Aunt Jemima, the mega star and frontmammy of Quaker Oats, has announced her intention to endorse Hillary Clinton and add yet another unnecessary black voice to Mrs. Clinton’s fraudulent Negro minstrel show.  Aunt Jemima said she was following the lead of Senators “Moses” Darrell Jackson and “Aaron” Robert Ford and a host of other so-called black leaders they bamboozeled this week into the promised land of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign.  Jemima happily exclaimed like a good psychological slave,  “Oooh Honey Chile, I’s so happy to tell de wurld bout de goodness of de Lawd and Miss Hillary.” 

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“Uncle Ben shuffled barefoot into our offices and offered us his endorsement without asking for anything in return, unlike the rest of the greedy Negroes we corralled earlier in the week,” said an anonymous Campaign insider. “It was too good to pass up”, she volunteered.  Uncle Ben gave as his rationale for endorsing the Clinton campaign, “I been a nigra corporate mascot for a long time now, might as well be one for Miss Hillary.”