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Houston Voters Split on Candidates

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

And the next big primary contest is coming up on Tuesday in Texas and Ohio. Hillary Clinton had a 20 point leads in both states a month ago, but Barack Obama has caught up in Texas and he's narrowed the gap in Ohio, even as most national polls now show him out front of Clinton.

All that adds real suspense to the decisions voters will make next week. NPR's Linda Wertheimer went to Houston to talk to some of those voters.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: In Houston's mostly black Third Ward there's considerably excitement about the possibility that Texas may make an African American the Democratic nominee. We talked to a group of community activists at Project Row House, which was started by artist Rick Lowe. Project Row House is a local effort to rejuvenate a traditional community.

Mr. RICK LOWE (Started Project Row House): This is the area that we're focusing on, but this is a distinct, different kind of neighborhood.

WERTHEIMER: Akua Fayed(ph) is a local artist active in this project. She feels this is a new time.

Ms. AKUA FAYED (Artist, Project Row House): It's almost prophetical. It's almost biblical. It's almost spiritual. And it's time for a change.

WERTHEIMER: Akua Fayed likes Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer. She thinks he's seen for himself where healthcare and education policy falls short and will know what to do. She said she'd just been to his campaign headquarters.

Ms. FAYED: And I chose to go to the one where all the white folks are going as opposed to going to the one in the hood, simply because I want to be there to get the feel. And it's the most wonderful feeling you can get to sit with people that don't look like who's talking about somebody that looks like you and say I want that person to be in charge.

WERTHEIMER: Several of the people we talked to had considered Hillary Clinton but said Obama was irresistible. They talked to small children, whose first idea of a president would be an African American. And they brushed aside all criticism, including Clinton said Obama's speeches contain no substance.

Marlon Hull works for a grassroots Christian movement.

Mr. MARLON HULL (Works for Christian movement): You have a candidate who's speaking of this abstract concept of hope. It's something that you can't touch. It's something that you can't clearly articulate in public policy. It's sort of like we're imagining something that we've never seen before.

WERTHEIMER: A student at the University of Houston, Lashaik Matterson(ph) completely rejected the idea that Obama is short on specifics.

Ms. LASHAIK MATTERSON (Student, University of Houston): I don't understand as far as the media and how they can just run with this whole he's speaking about generalizations, hope, and he's not specific and da-da-da-da. That is totally not true. I don't understand what about providing $4,000 as far as on tuition credits to students who do community work - what is not specific about talking to your enemies overseas and everyone else? Those - that's very specific.

WERTHEIMER: Just about ten miles away we found a very different atmosphere among members of the young singles and young marrieds bible study groups at Houston's huge Second Baptist Church. We met in the church's restaurant around the corner from the large and well-equipped fitness center and the yoga class.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man (Yoga instructor): Bring your shoulders towards your ears and just tighten the shoulders. Tight, tight, tight, tight, tight. And relax.

WERTHEIMER: Only two of these young people are sure about their choice next Tuesday. Kristin Somers Holmgren will vote for John McCain, but only because Mike Huckabee can't win. Here's Somers Holmgren.

Ms. KRISTIN SOMERS HOLMGREN (McCain supporter): Obviously Huckabee was charismatic in the beginning and being a Christian, as well, more outspoken in his religious views, caught my attention. However, McCain has definitely come out as the front runner. So with that I've been a little bit more in line with him.

WERTHEIMER: It didn't get much better for McCain with this conservative mostly Republican group. Angie Gilligan is a software sales rep. she's undecided but has eliminated Clinton.

Ms. ANGIE GILLIGAN (Software sales representative): As a woman, I'm impressed that she's taken this on, but also as a woman I have great respect for men and for their leadership and the submission of women to men - which would come from my foundational beliefs of growing up in the church, in a Christian home, and that I think a man should lead our country.

WERTHEIMER: The single's pastor also joined the group. John Card said he is willing to vote for a candidate he doesn't think can win.

Mr. JOHN CARD (Singles pastor, Second Baptist Church): Also, I agree there should be a male leading our country. My thoughts on McCain, I think he's a stud. I think he's a war hero. I probably line up more with his foreign policy. I do think also he's probably more central as opposed to right. So my protest vote, even though I personally think Huckabee's probably mathematically out of it, I'd still vote for Huckabee.

WERTHEIMER: Their choices are neither as conservative nor as Christian as these twenty and thirty-something's would like, but they say they'll vote if only to send a message that in four years they want better choices. While across town, some of their counterparts think the choices are better than ever before. Two very different views of what's happening in Texas on Tuesday.

Linda Wertheimer, NPR News, Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.

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