Hat Tip: by Michael R. Blood, Associated Press
Hillary Rodham Clinton pursued votes Friday in the city’s historical black heartland with basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson at her side. Less than a week ago, her rival Barack Obama banked $3 million at a fundraiser at Oprah Winfrey’s seaside estate.
For the two leading Democratic presidential contenders, the dueling events just six days apart highlighted the stiff competition for support and dollars 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, was also holding a fundraiser for Clinton at his Beverly Hills home 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 Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. 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 D. Gilliam Jr.
When it comes to competing celebrity endorsements, “I don’t know if anybody stands equal with Oprah,” Gilliam said. But Clinton, a New York senator, is not conceding the black vote to Obama and “she can compete for it in a legitimate way.”
On Thursday, the California Legislature’s black caucus endorsed Obama — but one of its eight members is backing Clinton. And independent polls in California suggest the black vote is divided, largely between Clinton and Obama.
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 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.”
The rivalry between Obama and Clinton also showcases the clout of black political influence and money.
Obama has predicted that black voter turnout could swell by at least 30 percent if he wins the presidential nomination, giving Democrats 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, she 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,” Clinton said.
At an event earlier Friday at a school in a heavily minority neighborhood near the Watts section, Clinton shared a stage with Johnson, Villaraigosa and other local leaders. She told a largely minority crowd including many students and supporters that she would bring a new style of leadership to Washington to take on issues like health care, education and ending the Iraq war.
“When I’m president, there will not be any invisible Americans,” she said.
Several people in the audience said they were comfortable with Clinton, in large part because of her long record in the public eye and efforts in her husband’s administration.
John Bruce, 45, a Democrat from Los Angeles who works in security, said the black community is looking for leaders and Obama “seems to be heading in the right direction.” Bruce, who is black, said race was not an issue in picking a candidate.
He said he remains undecided on 2008 but added, “I’m an all-Clinton Democrat.”
Black community activist “Sweet Alice” Harris, who is backing Clinton, said she worked closely with her during her days in the Clinton White House.
What about Obama?
“I don’t know him, but I know her,” Harris said.
Earlier in the day, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, held a private fundraiser for Clinton at a Mexican restaurant in Lynwood, a Los Angeles suburb.