Clinton Wins Endorsement Of Civil Rights Leader John Lewis

Friday, October 12th 2007, 3:13 pm
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton scored a coup in the battle for black votes on Friday as she picked up a coveted endorsement from Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero.

``Without reservation or any hesitation I am proud to endorse Hillary Clinton to be the next Democratic nominee to be president of the United States,'' Lewis said at an appearance with Clinton at Paschal's Restaurant, an Atlanta landmark of the civil rights movement.

The New York senator called the Georgia congressman one of the people she admires most in the world.

``I see my campaign as a continuation of John Lewis' life work,'' the New York senator said.

The Clinton campaign had released a statement of support from Lewis earlier in the day.

The endorsement is a setback to Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who is seeking to become the first black president and has counted on support from black leaders to spark his candidacy.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton, responding to Lewis' endorsement of Clinton, said: ``Barack Obama has great admiration for John Lewis and understands his long relationship with Bill Clinton. He looks forward to his support when Barack Obama is the nominee.''

Obama has the backing of another civil rights leader, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said in March that the Illinois senator has his vote.

The son of sharecroppers, Lewis, 67, rose to fame as one of the ``Freedom Riders'' promoting civil rights in the South. He was badly beaten by police during a nonviolent civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1961, and still bears scars from the experience.

Lewis also served as director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the major civil rights organizations of the era. He was elected to Congress in 1986.

Blacks make up about a tenth of voters overall. They are reliably loyal Democrats, voting nearly nine-to-one for the party's candidates in the 2004 and 2006 elections. And while blacks are few in the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa, they comprise about half the Democratic primary voters in South Carolina, another early voting state.

But blacks are split down the middle over Obama and Clinton in the presidential race, seeing both as on their side, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken in late September. At the same time, blacks and whites have starkly different perceptions of Obama's credentials _ blacks are significantly more satisfied than whites that the youthful Illinois senator has sufficient experience to be president.

While Clinton led Obama among whites by 35 percent to 18 percent in the AP-Ipsos poll, blacks were essentially evenly divided, 40 percent for Obama and 38 percent for Clinton.

While Obama may be the first sitting member of the Congressional Black Caucus to run for president in more than 30 years, Clinton has the edge in endorsements among the group. Lewis' endorsement brings Clinton's supporters in the 43-member group to 14, compared to Obama's 13.

Although technically since Obama is a member and supporting himself, one could say they are tied.