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As the nomination fight continues, political assumptions wither away

Two casual conversations I had this week with two Las Vegans, one a white female, the other a black male, showed once again the problems the two leading Democratic presidential candidates will face in Nevada, and why it’s wrong to make assumptions based on gender or race.

The chats took place after Sen. Barack Obama won Iowa, at a time when he looked like The One, and before Sen. Hillary Clinton rebounded in New Hampshire.

The woman, a certified nursing assistant at a local hospital, said she was no Clinton fan. “I want to see a woman elected president. I just don’t want to see that woman as president.”

Her emphasis on the words “that woman” somehow brought back memories of President Bill Clinton looking straight at the television cameras and declaring, with all the sincerity and passion he could muster, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Turns out, he lied about “that woman” Monica Lewinsky.

The nursing assistant simply didn’t like Hillary Clinton. Pure and simple.

On Tuesday, before Clinton’s New Hampshire victory, I asked the smog check guy at Jiffy Lube who he liked for president. “I like Obama,” the black man said, but he has reservations about Obama’s youth and lack of experience. But his kicker, and the reason he’s leaning toward Clinton, is not based on race but economics. “When the Clintons were in office, I had more cash in my pocket,” he said slapping his back pocket.

The beliefs of many, just like these two, are already set. Neither planned to caucus, so they won’t have any influence on Nevada’s Jan. 19 Democratic caucus. But a lot of Nevadans probably believe the same things.

Obama can’t do anything about his lack of experience or his age. But Clinton can work on her likability.

The debate du jour: Can Clinton’s victory over Obama in New Hampshire be credited to her emotional moment on Monday, when she teared up and choked up when asked: How do you do it?

Clinton answered: “It’s not easy, and I couldn’t do it if I didn’t passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know, I’ve had so many opportunities from this country, I just don’t want to see us fall backwards.”

With tears in her eyes and her voice softening, Clinton continued, “You know, this is very personal for me. It’s not just political. It’s not just public. I see what’s happening, and we have to reverse it. Some people think elections are a game, lots of who’s up or who’s down, (but) it’s about our country. It’s about our kids’ futures, and it’s really about all of us together.”

In post-primary analyses, they say New Hampshire women responded to that fragment of emotion from a woman known for self-control.

Frankly, I didn’t. I’m one of those professional women who try to keep any tears of frustration out of the workplace, although I have the ability to wail with the best of them when someone I love is in pain.

On Wednesday, Clinton was distancing herself from her emotional moment. She was crediting her 39-36 victory over Obama to the debate on Saturday.

Now I saw that debate and I didn’t see a turning point. I came away wondering whether Sen. John Edwards, who engaged in the most forceful challenge to Clinton, is hoping to nab a vice presidential candidacy if Obama wins the Democratic nomination. Edwards was going after Clinton every chance he got, leaving it to Obama to be above the fray.

But if a 48-second television sound bite of Clinton showing emotion becomes a turning point in the campaign, as it seems to have been, what does that portend for the campaign in Nevada?

When Clinton gets to Nevada today, will she be bunny rabbit fuzzy or cactus tough?

Either way, the cynical will wonder: Is it just an act?

Others will wonder: Is that what she’ll do in a national crisis?

By the way, the 64-year-old woman who asked the tear-inducing question ended up voting for Obama.

Of course, here was another assumption that was wrong. Older women are supposed to be Clinton fans. And black men are supposed to be Obama supporters.

Tell that to my pal at the Jiffy Lube.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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