Yentas for Obama!

Obama-mania outside Zabar's could mean a tough night for Hillary Clinton in New York.

Published February 6, 2008 1:01AM (EST)

NEW YORK CITY -- In search of what I thought might pass as the interplanetary nexus of support for Hillary Clinton, I headed to Manhattan's Upper West Side, specifically to Zabar's, the legendary food store that I imagine to contain the highest percentage of liberal white women over 40 in the universe. But when I emerged from the subway at 79th and Broadway, I was greeted instead by two women holding Obama placards.

Pam Spritzer, 45, and a single mother who has worked in editing and writing, described herself as "more progressive than either Obama or Clinton," called their domestic policies "almost indistinguishable," and allowed as how she would support Clinton if she got the Democratic nomination, but said she is supporting Obama because of his ability to inspire a new and diverse crop of voters to get out and support him. As we spoke, a young Asian woman came by and asked Spritzer which corner she was supposed to be standing on. Immediately following her was a middle-aged white man who asked, "Where should I go to hand out literature?" "That makes me really happy," said Spritzer.

Across the street, directly in front of Zabar's, was an even odder pairing of Obama volunteers. Ruth Cohen, a 65-year-old psychiatrist and registered Republican who earlier Tuesday had voted for John McCain, had been going for a speed walk to 96th street when she'd been recruited to stand with an Obama sign by 25-year-old Obama supporter and playwright Eric Sanders. "I've never voted for a Clinton and I never will," said Cohen proudly, and admitted that despite her Republicanism, she would have to do some serious soul-searching about whether to cast a general election ballot for McCain or Obama.

A block south, outside a subway entrance, stood Obama volunteers Kathy Kline, a 62-year-old part-time ESL teacher, and Daphne Muller, a 24-year-old think-tank coordinator at Columbia University who hails from South Carolina and had voted in that state's primary. The women explained that Obama supporters' heavy street presence in Manhattan today was strictly grass-roots, not organized or orchestrated by the campaign. "My boyfriend made these fliers," said Muller, while Kline explained that some of her neighbors had gotten together to print up buttons, since the campaign hadn't made any available. "There's no hierarchy in this campaign," said Kline. "No one is coming in from the official campaign to tell you what to do." And, she added with a grin, "I think one of the great things about Obama's influence is that not once have I felt like an old white woman."

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Democratic Party Hillary Rodham Clinton War Room