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CBC Women Eye ’08 Picks

Rep. Rahm Emanuel’s (D-Ill.) dilemma in choosing between home state and political ties in the 2008 presidential contest has been widely publicized, but dozens of other House Democrats are wrestling with where to throw their support when it comes to the historic candidacies of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.).

Just ask the 14 women of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Most of the women seem to be keeping their powder dry for the time being, although almost all of the CBC members interviewed for this article said they already had been contacted by one or more of the 2008 campaigns.

CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) said she does plan to endorse a candidate eventually, but that her decision would be based less on “ethnicity or gender” and more on the platform the candidates present.

“That it’s a woman for the first time is inviting,” Kilpatrick said.

But she said there were more important questions to be answered in choosing the party’s nominee.

“Who can win? Who can raise the money? Who can speak to America? Who can speak to the issues?” she said.

She also said she expected her CBC colleagues to support a number of the eight Democrats who currently are exploring or already in the 2008 race.

“We’ll be all over the place,” she said.

Case in point: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).

Johnson was an early backer of then-Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) in the 2004 Democratic White House primary and early on pledged to support him again this time around.

“I have great admiration for both,” she said of Clinton and Obama. “I will not be choosing either one of them soon. I have to stand with my commitment until I see something else happening.”

Johnson said she was somewhat caught off-guard by Clinton and Obama’s candidacies. A year ago, Obama was barely more than a dream in the minds of some hopeful Democrats and there still were questions about whether Clinton would really run.

“I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t do to see them get elected,” she said.

Both campaigns have reached out to Johnson, and she politely relayed that she is committed elsewhere.

“But if things go really well for them, I’ll be there,” she added.

Likewise, Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) had been committed to Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the 2004 Democratic nominee who recently announced he would not run again next year.

With her support now up in the air, she admitted to having been contacted by three of the candidates’ campaigns.

Johnson and Democratic Reps. Albert Wynn (Md.) and Mel Watt (N.C.) were among the early CBC Edwards backers in the 2004 campaign. Wynn again is spearheading efforts to garner support for Edwards in the House, including among CBC members.

Several CBC women mentioned policies related to Hurricane Katrina, the needs of urban America and Iraq War strategy as some of the most important platform issues they are looking to hear about from the 2008 aspirants.

Edwards, who was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, announced his current White House effort from New Orleans’ flood-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward.

But Edwards and Clinton both supported the Iraq War resolution, and Clinton’s continued support of Iraq policy until recently has made her party’s liberal and progressive activists loath to embrace her.

Obama, now an active member of the CBC, was not in the Senate when the Iraq resolution came to a vote in 2002.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said race and gender would be some of the most important factors in making her decision about which candidate to back in 2008. She recalled that her entry into politics was inspired by the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), the first black woman elected to Congress and the first black of either gender to seek the presidential nomination of a major party.

“For me, race and gender are very important qualities,” Lee said, adding that she has not endorsed a candidate yet and doesn’t plan to for awhile.

“I think it’s very important that both Sen. Clinton and Barack run,” she said. “It changes the debate.”

But fellow California Democrat and CBC member Maxine Waters agreed with Kilpatrick in that race and gender should not be the deciding factors for CBC members or for women. She said that in a colorblind society “we would not be asked whether we plan to vote for” a black candidate or a woman candidate.

Waters called Democratic Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.) — considered underdogs in the contest compared to Clinton and Obama — the smartest candidates in the race.

“Biden and Dodd know foreign policy better than any other candidate,” she said.

Freshman Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) is the only woman in the CBC who also has a home-state consideration in making her endorsement choice.

Clarke said thus far she has been more focused on getting her bearings straight and learning Congress than on deciding who she will back in 2008.

Although she said she is more familiar with Clinton’s work, she plans to consult with her constituents before making her choice.

“To even have these choices is historic,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), who has not decided where she’s leaning. “I am still basking in the delight in having choices that I ordinarily would not have.”

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