Obama, Clinton Battle for African-American Endorsements

ByABC News
February 16, 2007, 9:09 AM

Feb. 16, 2007 — -- As Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., heads to South Carolina this weekend for the first time as a presidential candidate, he steps right into a Dixie briar patch of racial politics.

Up to 50 percent of South Carolina's Democratic primary voters are African-American, so the Palmetto State is a state the Obama campaign is targeting. But can Obama count on black voters to vote for a black candidate? Will his race affect the decision-making process of white voters? Such questions are uncomfortable but Obama's credible candidacy forces them into the open.

While a recent ABC News poll indicates that 84 percent of Americans say a candidate being black would not affect their vote, the dirty little secret is what some pollsters and consultants call "the 15 percent lie" -- the supposed percentage of whites who tell pollsters they would be willing to vote for a black candidate but in the privacy of the voting booth never actually would.

A prominent African-American leader in South Carolina, who endorsed the presidential race of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., this weekend, broached this subject when announcing his endorsement. Democratic state Sen. Robert Ford told the Associated Press that Obama as the Democratic nominee would "doom" every other Democrat on the ticket because America would never vote for a black presidential candidate.

"Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose because he's black and he's top of the ticket," Ford said in comments he later disowned. "We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything."

Whatever the reason behind the endorsement, in a January ABC News poll, Clinton led Obama among African-American voters, 60 percent to 20 percent. And competition for backing from major black leaders is fierce, particularly between Clinton and Obama.

In recent days, Obama secured the endorsement of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and ABC News has learned that Clinton has secured the backing of Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and owner of the Charlotte Bobcats NBA team. Johnson has supported Obama in the past.