Female voters analyze Democratic front-runners Clinton, Obama

Keya Neal, owner of It's All In The Cut hair salon on Dorchester Road talks politics with customers while styling Shakella Haynes's hair. Neal, who did not always follow politics has been following this primary season closely.

For many black women, deciding who they'll vote for in Saturday's Democratic primary is a good kind of angst.

Do they vote for who could be the first female president or the first black president? It's the first time they've had to choose between the two.

Yvette Jackson of Goose Creek said the choice isn't at all bad, though she's torn on what to do. She settled on Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York after considering the two front-runners' stances on key issues.

"Obama has the credentials, and I think he needs our support," she said. "This may be what he needs in South Carolina to get him that vote to win the nomination. ... If he couldn't, then certainly, I'd be just as happy with Hillary."

Jackson also considered former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards but said she's drawn to Obama's charisma and hopes he'll unify the nation.

This Democratic presidential race is unprecedented in its diversity. And now all eyes are on South Carolina's primary, which is the first in the South, and experts have said black women will play a significant role in the primary's outcome.

Bill Moore, a College of Charleston political science professor, said blacks will make up about half of the voters who turn out Saturday and that most of them will be female.

Moore said it's understandable that many black women feel they have a tough decision to make. "It's one of those situations where, no doubt, they see the alternative as positive as opposed to one being positive and the other being negative," he said. "Actually, where you'll probably see the greatest division is on age."

Moore said Obama is popular among young people, while Clinton is supported more by baby boomers. Those observations apply to blacks and whites, he added.

Most of the black women interviewed for this story said their decision won't be based solely on race or gender, but they also acknowledged that the factors do play a role.

They said key concerns are health care, the economy, Social Security and the minimum wage.

Shermica Favers, a 30-year-old single mother of two, said she saw Obama on the Oprah Winfrey show a while ago and feels that he can relate to her struggles because Obama was raised by a single mom. "You can't know what to do until you live it," Favers said.

But what about the "Oprah effect?" Has the media mogul's endorsement of Obama, being that she is a prominent black woman, reeled in more votes for the senator?

"That didn't influence me," said Jackson, who is 57. "I'm one of the older generation, so I'm not going to be easily influenced by what Oprah thinks."

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But Keya Neal, owner of the It's All in the Cut salon in North Charleston, thinks otherwise. "I personally think Oprah should be president," the 34-year-old said.

It was another powerful black woman who swayed the Rev. Cynthia L. Hale to want to vote for Obama. The senior pastor at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga., said she loved the idea of electing the first female president but had chosen to campaign for Obama after hearing his wife, Michelle, insist at a news event last year that "the time is now."

Angie Jones-Green, 46, said both candidates are appealing and have good things to say, but "which one will help me?" she asked.

Jones-Green is skeptical that Obama, despite his good intentions, can reduce partisanship in Washington. She's also worried about racism and the possibility that some in Congress will resent working with a black president, she said.

"When I really think about it, I'm going to vote for Hillary, because she's a woman and experienced," Jones-Green said.

Virginia Townsend, a 59-year-old Holly Hill resident, said she also likes both front-runners, and she thinks she has the solution that will resolve the indecision so many black women are experiencing now.

"I would love to see them together on the ticket," she said. "But which one would agree to be vice president?"