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Hillary loses lock on N.Y. primary

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — Standing in front of the Harlem office building where Bill Clinton has his post-presidential office, Audrey Quantano said she has supported the former president and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton "for a very long time."

But Miss Quantano has a problem.

"I am tossed between Hillary and Obama," she said Monday. "I"m split right now. ... I"ve got my list of pros and cons with both of them."

New York"s Democratic presidential primary Feb. 5 was once considered a cakewalk for Mrs. Clinton, who has represented New York since 2001.

But after Sen. Barack Obama"s victory in the Iowa caucuses and his close second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, some see him as a viable candidate here.

Then a spat broke out between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama over the legacy of Martin Luther King. The former first lady was quoted as saying King"s dream of racial equality was realized only when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Mr. Obama took issue with the remark.

Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Obama was distorting her statement. She said King was one of the people whom she most admired and that her point was that his record of activism stood in stark contrast to Mr. Obama"s.

Whatever the case, some Harlem voters said they were unhappy with Mrs. Clinton"s remark.

"I was offended," said Charlene Hines, an Obama campaign volunteer. "I said, 'There"s white entitlement again." It was agitation that brought it to that point."

As Mrs. Clinton appeared in Midtown on Monday at a rally promoting better working conditions for security officers, signs of Obama support Uptown in Harlem ranged from posters in shop windows to Miss Hines" soliciting helpers for a get-out-the-vote drive.

A Dec. 17 poll by Quinnipiac University showed Mrs. Clinton leading Mr. Obama by 55 percent to 17 percent among likely Democratic voters in New York. No state polls have been released since Mr. Obama"s Jan. 3 victory in Iowa, so it is difficult to handicap the race.

The Clintons have had a warm relationship with black voters since long before author Toni Morrison called him "the first black president" in 1998.

Harlem residents are used to seeing Mr. Clinton on the street since he opened his office on 125th Street, and many have heard one or both Clintons speak to black churches and community groups over the years.

Mr. Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois and the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, has stirred pride among black voters since his emergence on the national political scene.

"People are proud that someone from our community can do so well and can attract people outside our community," said former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton.

Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said the Clintons "have always been widely popular among black people." But he added, "There"s never been a candidate like Obama before."