A landmark contest starts here | NevadaAppeal.com

A landmark contest starts here

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

Many Northern Nevadans say they wouldn’t hesitate to cast their votes for a female or black presidential candidate, but are unsure if either of the top two candidates can capture the confidence of the nation.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., represent what could become firsts in American political history. Nevada has already set a precedent this year by having women as the Assembly speaker and Senate minority leader, but the White House may be another matter.

Although Mary Jones plans to vote for Hillary Clinton, she’s not sure if the senator has a chance to win.

“I don’t know if the country is ready for a woman,” said Jones, an office manager in Carson City, while eating lunch at the Station Grille. “I have no problem with an African American as president.”

Obama, who gained national recognition for a stirring keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, is seen as a candidate who could attract votes from Americans of different racial backgrounds, something that has eluded previous black presidential candidates.

Clinton will participate in today’s forum at the Carson City Community Center. Obama could not make the event because of scheduling conflicts.

Some local residents said they are ready to vote for a woman – just not Clinton. Sometimes for reasons they can’t explain.

“I think it’s time a woman be given an opportunity to hold a position as president,” said Roy Miller, of Gardnerville. “Not necessarily Hillary, but possibly Condie Rice because of her knowledge of world events, the ins and outs of the current administration, her intelligence and ability.”

It’s not the Whitewater real estate scandal nor a liberal agenda that turns off Judi Harris, a nurse from Carson City. It’s Bill Clinton’s infidelity.

“I wouldn’t support her for supporting him,” she said before dashing off to continue her shopping at the Carson Mall.

Others are slanted against Clinton on self-imposed mandates. Owen Branom, a slot technician from Carson City, won’t vote for a lawyer for president. He’s also unsure how other nations who are at odds with America – such as the Middle Eastern Muslim countries – will look upon a female president.

“It might make us look weaker,” he said.

Jean Amos, 83, of Carson City, hasn’t made up her mind yet. She’s a moderate Republican.

“I look for experience, knowledge and character,” she said while playing mah-jong with a group of friends at Comma Coffee. “Either way, I’d vote for them no matter the sex, male or female.”

When questioned by the media, or pollsters, Americans often give the socially acceptable answer, but that doesn’t mean they’ll vote that way, said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“People don’t want to appear to be intolerant,” he said.

Environmental issues and tolerance of gay marriage are examples. In polls, Americans are more lenient of same-sex marriages. When it comes to the vote, gay marriage amendments fail in a majority of states.

Bias can be shown in the way a voter views one candidate as more qualified than another, whether that’s age or experience.

Perception, whether accurate, is a strong current in politics. Herzik said the love Democrats feel for Bill Clinton is shared by Hillary Clinton. That goes the same way with the Republicans, who can dislike Clinton because she is perceived as being more liberal than her husband. Obama, on the other hand, has a voting record similar to Clinton’s, but “he comes across with softer edges. He’s seen as more of a centrist.”

In November, many voters ousted Republicans in favor of the Democrats, putting both houses under their control. Democrat Sylvia Grattan, 65, of Carson City, interprets this as a sign America wants a major change.

“I believe women are leaders just as much as a man,” she said. “My vote is not based off gender or color of skin, but what they stand for.”

Ellen Malcolm, president of a Washington, D.C., organization that helps elect Democratic women to office, said women have come a long way, and now is the time. Her organization supports Clinton.

“It can be so hard for women to get down to positions because they’re answering questions about gender issues, but I think this has shifted dramatically in the last 22 years,” said Malcolm, president of Emily’s List, which was established in 1985. “Voters see women in tough races. They see Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the first female speaker, and they think Nancy is phenomenal. I think it’s setting the stage for electing the first woman president.”

Theresa Vesentinee, a nurse from Gardnerville, believes a woman could take the election, but she doubts that a black man would get elected.

“It’s a scary concept that shouldn’t scare people, but it does,” she said.

Her daughter, 15-year-old Lexi Foster, won’t be able to vote in the 2008 election, but if she could she knows who she’d vote for.

“Barack Obama because I think we should have a black president.”

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.