Pr. George's Executive Gives Nod to Clinton

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) had previously permitted his name to be used in support of Obama.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) had previously permitted his name to be used in support of Obama. (James M. Thresher - Twp)
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By John Wagner and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 3, 2008

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson yesterday announced his endorsement of Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, telling his supporters in one of the nation's most affluent African American jurisdictions that the New York senator "will fight for us on the issues."

Speaking to about 100 constituents at a Greenbelt hotel, Johnson (D) offered nothing but praise for Clinton's primary rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), saying it was "important to open the doors of opportunity" to a black candidate with a serious shot at the presidency. But Johnson urged support of Clinton in Maryland's Feb. 12 primary, saying she is the most electable Democrat in the general election and a proven leader on issues including national security and education.

"On all of the substantive issues, she's been there," Johnson said.

Johnson said the endorsement had been planned for two weeks, but his announcement came as a surprise to many in Maryland political circles, in part because Johnson had agreed to let Obama's campaign use his name in a listing of statewide supporters in December.

"We are not going to engage in why we are not supporting Barack," Johnson said yesterday. "We don't have to do that. We're not going to get into the negative at all. . . . We have two outstanding candidates running for president."

In an interview, Johnson said that Clinton had personally appealed for his help.

Although many political analysts say the value of endorsements is overrated, Johnson's announcement sent a potentially important signal in a majority black county where loyalties are divided between Obama and Clinton, based on years of affection for her and her husband.

Derrick Green, a former Johnson deputy chief of staff who managed his 2002 campaign, said he thinks Obama will win Prince George's handily but that Johnson's endorsement is a reminder that the black vote is not monolithic.

"The county executive does have a supportive organization of grass-roots workers, people who come from all walks of life and have been with him for many years," said Green, who is supporting Obama. "He'll attempt to put his political army behind Senator Clinton."

Obama claims several prominent Prince George's supporters, including State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D), state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) and County Council Chairman David C. Harrington (D-Cheverly), who has been nominated to fill the late senator Gwendolyn T. Britt's seat.

Several other African American supporters of Clinton, including Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), a former Prince George's delegate, joined Johnson at his event, which was not widely advertised to the media.

Johnson urged his predominantly African American audience to build a "Hillary presence in our community" by putting up yard signs and talking to neighbors about her candidacy.

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