By BENJAMIN SARLIN
Special to the Sun
Although a statewide win in New York appears unlikely for Senator Obama, he could score a symbolic victory in the February 5 presidential primary by carrying New York City, where recent polls show him to be competitive.
At a rally yesterday in front of City Hall, elected officials and labor leaders pledged their support for the Illinois senator and promised a hard-fought campaign on Senator Clinton’s home turf. State senators Bill Perkins, John Sampson, Kevin Parker, and Eric Adams; Assembly members Hakeem Jeffries and Karim Camara, and Council Member Albert Vann rallied for Mr. Obama, as did a former congressman, Major Owens, and two former council members, Ronnie Eldridge and Wendell Foster.
Mr. Obama faces an uphill battle to win the New York State primary. Mrs. Clinton has won two elections here by large margins, and she commands the support of many prominent elected officials, including Governor Spitzer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and all four New York members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Partly because of the state’s image as a stronghold for Mrs. Clinton, a win for Mr. Obama in America’s most populous city could be a badge of honor as the two compete for votes beyond the February 5 primaries. Because New York’s Democratic primary divides its delegates proportionally rather than through a winner-take-all system, a strong showing not only would help Mr. Obama in the spin room, but also it would give him a number of delegates.
A WNBC/Marist poll released last week found that although Mrs. Clinton had a 47% to 31% lead over Mr. Obama among likely New York State voters, he was far closer in New York City, drawing 39% of likely voters versus 43% for Senator Clinton. In recent weeks, Mr. Obama’s support has been surging among black voters, a demographic he won 4 to 1 in South Carolina, according to exit polls, and whose turnout and support would likely be crucial in New York City.
Addressing a crowd of hundreds of Obama supporters, speakers yesterday emphasized Mr. Obama’s ability to unite.
“It’s about hope,” Mr. Perkins said. “It’s about believing change can happen despite the establishment’s hold on the process.” He praised the Illinois senator for bringing people who normally do not participate in elections, such as young voters, to the polls.
Mr. Jeffries described the candidate’s South Carolina victory as “a mighty mighty beatdown,” drawing cheers from the audience, who frequently chanted Mr. Obama’s campaign slogan “Yes we can!” in English and Spanish.
Mr. Obama can “absolutely” win the city, Mr. Jeffries said.
“If you look at the fact that Jesse Jackson in 1988 won New York City with a coalition of diverse supporters that is not as diverse as we think Senator Obama would be able to put together, I think he has a very good chance of winning New York City,” he said. “New York City, with a population of 8 million people, has a tremendous amount of delegates, more than many states. Winning New York City is the equivalent of winning several rural or southern states combined, and so the importance of a victory in the five boroughs cannot be overstated.”
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