Black women pick race over gender

Supporters of Barack Obama celebrate his win in the South Carolina primary in Columbia on Saturday.
Supporters of Barack Obama celebrate his win in the South Carolina primary in Columbia on Saturday.

COLUMBIA -- Black women had a historic choice to make in Saturday's Democratic presidential primary- vote for a woman or an African-American?

Gender or race?

Nearly all black women surveyed by exit pollsters picked a candidate of their race, giving U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois an overwhelming share of their support.

"I've got grands, and I've got great-grands," said Virginia Seawright, a 58-year old black beautician who backed Obama. "They need this."

Seawright said her choice came down to Obama and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, a former first lady who has made experience a centerpiece of her campaign.

"I was going to vote for Hillary," said Seawright, who voted at Columbia's Martin Luther King Jr. Park community center on Greene Street. "I like her experience, but I'm with the change."

Obama racked up huge margins of support from black voters and also beat Clinton among all women, exit polls showed. He won among men and all age groups, and matched Clinton's support among white voters.

"I was ABC anybody but Clinton," said Margaret Cain, a 54-year-old homemaker who supported former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. She voted at A.C. Moore Elementary School. "I just can't stand Hillary Clinton. Maybe it's a holdover from my not being able to stand Bill Clinton."

Former president Bill Clinton campaigned aggressively for his wife, and most voters told exit pollsters his work on her behalf was important.

But even among those voters, Obama's support was strong.

Many voters seemed turned off by Hillary Clinton's performance during Monday's debate in Myrtle Beach, which was marked by sharp exchanges with Obama.

Both Edwards and Obama have said that a vote for Hillary Clinton is a move toward bitterly partisan politics. Voters agreed.

"I think Hillary Clinton was the best candidate for foreign policy, but she's so slick," said Barbara Brothers, a 52-year-old director of a non-profit organization who supported Edwards and also voted at Moore. "I didn't like the return to business-as- usual politics with her."

Young voters have been a potent force for Obama, and Saturday's primary was no different.

Obama got solid majorities among voters who were 18 to 24 years old, 25 to 29 years old and those 30 to 39 years old.

"I like all of his ideas," said Brooke Perkins, a 20-year-old political science student at the University of South Carolina. "I know they are a little far-fetched, but I think it's good to think big."

Perkins and her sister, 24-year-old Hillary Perkins, share a last name, a university and a major but not a presidential preference.

"I voted for Hillary Clinton," Hillary Perkins said. "And, no, her name had nothing to do with it."

Hillary Perkins said Clinton's experience and health-care plan won her over.

Her sister, however, said she doesn't like Hillary Clinton's style.

"Hillary's been a little too catty lately," Brooke Perkins said. "That's turned me off."