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African-American Voters Say They Support Obama

Several U.S. opinion polls suggests Americans are divided by race going into the November election. Democratic Senator Barack Obama is expected to be the first African-American to run as a major party's candidate for president. Polls show black voters overwhelmingly support Obama over his rival, Republican Senator John McCain. In a series of reports, VOA has been looking at voters across the country and whether America is ready for a black president. VOA's Chris Simkins reports on the feelings of some African-American voters.

At the convention of (Alpha Kappa Alpha) the oldest black sorority in the country, these women, like other African-Americans, are among Barack Obama's most fervent supporters. They are ecstatic that he will soon become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee, facing off against Republican Senator John McCain.

Candice Walker from Chicago says Obama's run for the White House is a milestone. "We are hoping that people look at the credentials and say, well, he can make a change," she said. "He has made a change already by the fact that he is running and so many people have voted for him of every ethnic color."

Should Race be an Issue?
In March, Obama spoke about race. He said blacks should not feel burdened by lingering racism.

"Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now," Obama said. "For the African-American community that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past."

African-Americans, like Warren Boyd of Washington, DC, hope voters are open to electing an African-American president. "I certainly would hope we are ready to elect a black president. We have elected black mayors, black governors," Boyd said.

Eleanor Holmes Norton was first elected to Congress 17 years ago from the District of Columbia, the nation's capital. She says the country has come a long way.

"I think the fact that this is a country that had slavery and discrimination should not discount the fact that time moves on. One of the reasons this nominee, Barack Obama, has done so well is that he has drawn into the process millions of young people who didn't pay it any attention before him," Congresswoman Norton said.

Observers say Obama has not talked excessively about race during the campaign out of concern that white voters might overwhelmingly view him as a black candidate. He has highlighted his origins as the son of a white American mother and a Kenyan father.

Vesla Weaver is a political science professor at the University of Virginia. She says Obama has done a good job diluting the issue of race. "He really has distanced himself from the kind of stereotype of most black candidates but without being disingenuous, without kind of selling out (black voters) his base," she said.

Tony Matthews from Maryland believes Obama may be able to transcend race. "I think if an individual looks at who Obama is, his intelligence, his ability to run this country, look at all those factors and take the skin color out of it, then I think a white America could come to the right conclusion, well yeah I think he could be a good leader," Mathews said. "How many whites will do that ? I do not know."

A recent (New York Times / CBS News) survey indicates that Obama's candidacy has generated great enthusiasm among black voters. But they do not see it as proof that race relations are getting better.

Dana Smith, from Dallas (Texas) agrees. She says, if elected, Obama could help improve relations between whites and blacks. "Right now we are not where we should be. We are far from where we need to be and I think he (Obama) could help to mend those fences," she said.