Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton picked up endorsements from dozens of Black ministers Tuesday in South Carolina, an early voting state where she and rival Barack Obama have been courting the critical Black vote.
Don Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman said the endorsements were highly valued by candidates. "There's very stiff, intense competition for the hearts and minds of the African-American clergy," He said. "Collectively, they have huge influence."
Nearly half of South Carolina's Democratic primary voters are Black, and ministers can play a huge role in shaping the political direction of their congregations. More than 60 ministers gathered with Clinton on a stage at a hotel in Spartanburg.
The New York senator has been posting about a 10 percent lead over Obama in the strongly Republican state, but the Illinois senator has plenty of pulpit endorsements of his own. He's visited churches in the state and his campaign has organized forums on faith at churches and community centers. It also sponsored a recent gospel music tour.
The endorsements echo an emerging trend. A national survey of likely Black presidential voters released this week by the Washington DC-based think tank the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showed African American voters giving Clinton higher favorable ratings than any of the other presidential contenders.
In the Joint Center's survey, conducted between Oct. 5 and Nov. 2, 83 percent of African American voters rated Clinton favorably. About 10 percent rated her unfavorably. However, a significant gender gap exists. Black women overwhelmingly back Clinton, with 86 percent rating her favorably and seven percent unfavorably, while among Black men those ratings were just 78 percent favorable and 15 percent unfavorable.
Obama earned a 74.4 percent favorable rating from African American voters with only 10 percent rating him unfavorably. There were no differences between Black men and women. And the third Democratic frontrunner, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards received a favorable rating from 45 percent of Black voters, while 19.7 percent rated him unfavorably.
The survey confirmed past evidence that African Americans are more likely to align with the Democratic Party. It found that 84 percent of African American voters described themselves as Democrats and 11 percent identified themselves as Republicans; 54 percent of those surveyed described themselves as strong Democrats, while only seven percent said they were strong Republicans.
When it comes to the Republican contenders for the presidential nomination, African American voters report strongly negative impressions. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who tops the polls nationally, was best known to Black voters, but just 27 percent viewed him favorably compared to 43 percent unfavorably. Actor and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, the other Republican frontrunner, was viewed favorably by 20 percent of Black voters and unfavorably by 29 percent.
Other Republicans fared even worse in the survey. Twice as many voters rated former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee unfavorably as favorably, for example.
But if African Americans are leaning towards Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination, a new survey by opinion pollster Zogby International, suggests that if the election were held now Clinton would be less likely than either John Edwards or Barack Obama to beat a Republican candidate to the presidency.
The online poll, taken between Nov 21 - 26, showed Clinton losing to every one of the top five Republican presidential contenders: Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney and Thompson. That is a reversal of her position earlier this year, when telephone polls showed she would win out over all her prospective GOP opponents.
At the same time, those voting in the interactive poll preferred Obama over all of the Republican contenders. And it showed Edwards would win against four of the Republican contenders and tie with the other, McCain.
Nationally the latest Zogby poll, Nov. 21 showed Clinton maintaining her lead with 38 percent support, although Obama is gaining ground at 27 percent. Edwards is holding steady in a distant third place, with 13 percent support.
On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has made a national move into third place, in front of Mitt Romney and John McCain. However the top two Republican contenders are still New York's Rudy Giuliani with 29 percent, followed by Tennessee's Fred Thompson with 15 percent.
--Compiled by The Skanner staff from wire reports.