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For Some Students, A Diverse Field Of Candidates Presents Tough Choices

This story was written by Chidinma Okparanta, The Diamondback
Freshman economics major Donna Harris will be voting in her first primary and presidential election this year.

She is black and a Democrat, and confronted with a decision between two firsts: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both vying to tear down barriers that have held women and blacks from attaining their country's highest office.

And like many others, it's not the thought of watching those historic precedents shattered that is animating her decision.

"I don't really feel obligated to vote based on either race or gender," Harris said, "because based on that, either candidate would be a good choice for me as an African-American woman."

Instead, Harris, like many other young people, will be voting for change. "While Hillary could be the first female president, her last name is still Clinton," Harris said. "I think young people want something new."

She's not alone. Harris is, after all, part of a new generation of voters who have seen only a Bush or Clinton as president for nearly the last two decades.

"Obama is the first post-baby boomer candidate," said communications professor and campaign expert Shawn J. Parry-Giles, "which makes the older generation nervous and gets the younger generation excited, regardless of race or gender."

Senior sociology major Darla Bunting, who supports Barack Obama, feels the same.

"It would be a misconception to say that Barack Obama's support among blacks is based solely on race because he has a high level of support among young people of all persuasions," Bunting said, recalling an Obama rally she attended recently at American University. "The crowd was made up of white people and black people, both women and men."

Race and gender have both played prominent roles in the nominating contest. Female voters are widely credited with giving Clinton a win in New Hampshire, and blacks came out strongly for Obama in South Carolina, where he won by a wide margin.

Still, government and politics professor Ronald Walters said the picture is more complicated.

"Although race might play a role in the reasons why some African Americans support Obama," Walters said, "many will support him for his war stance or his stance on health insurance and education."

Walters also noted differences within the black female demographic along generational lines.

"Older black women are more likely to support Clinton because they are familiar with her," Walters said. "Meanwhile young people are looking for someone who can put forward a vision of what is possible."

For sophomore American studies major Jenna Brager, who is not black and is a member of Feminism Without Borders, the decision might seem more clear cut, but it's not.

"I'm a feminist and I think it's important for women to be active in all sectors of society and having women in power is very important," she said, "but to embrace Clinton as a candidate because she's a woman would be tokenizing."

In fact, recent polls point to similar sentiments. Based on CNN exit polls from the South Carolina primary, Obama beat Clinton among women by a margin of 24 percentage points, a margin that increases as age decreases.

Brager said her dream ticket would be Obama and Edwards, although she is not completely satisfied with either one alone.

"I think [Obama] does inspire young people, and I really like Edward's stance on labor issues," she said. "If I were to vote right now, I would vote for Obama."

Brager said although nobody can completely transcend race or gender, it's the issues that matter.

"As important as specific women's issues are, I think that all issues are women's issues and that people hould vote based on that," she said.

Daniela Vann, Maryland alumna and member of Feminism Without Borders, feels similarly.

"I don't even know if I'm going to vote yet," she said, expressing dissatisfaction with both remaining democratic candidates, "but if I did it would probably be for Obama, because even though Clinton is a woman, she's a white upper-class woman who sat on the board of Wal-Mart, and I'm not sure she would actually fight on behalf of all women."
© 2008 The Diamondback via U-WIRE