North Carolina Lumbee vote goes to Sen. Clinton

North Carolina isn't known as a state with a large Indian vote. According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 1.1 percent of the population is Indian.

But Indian voters in the state, which held its Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday, sent a clear message at the polls. According to an analysis of the results, members of the Lumbee Tribe overwhelmingly supported Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) despite an overall victory by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois).

Clinton easily won Robeson County with 53 percent of the vote, compared to 41 percent for Obama. The county is headquarters for the Lumbee Tribe and 36 percent of the population is Indian, the highest percentage in the state.

Three nearby eastern North Carolina counties, including Brunswick County, where 1.7 percent of the population is Indian, also voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. But Obama did win the vote in nearby Cumberland County, where 1.3 percent of the population is Indian.

Photo of Barack Obama by Robbie Wroblewski. Photo of Hillary Clinton by Marc Nozell

The vote on the western side of the state, where the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is based, was harder to analyze because the Indian population there is much smaller. Nevertheless, Clinton easily won the counties that encompass the tribe's reservation.

There was one holdout for Obama, who easily won Buncombe County with 54 percent of the vote, compared to 43 percent for Clinton. Less than 1 percent of the county is Indian.

As the race ramped up, Clinton and Obama both made plays for the Indian vote. Clinton sent former president Bill Clinton to Robeson County in April and her campaign made it clear that she supported a bill to recognize the Lumbee Tribe.

Obama also expressed his support for the recognition bill but not until a day before the primary. By that time, Chelsea Clinton already made news by attending a powwow in Robeson County on Sunday, when she was introduced by Lumbee Chairman Jimmy Goins.

"I fundamentally believe my mom will be the best president for all of us," Chelsea Clinton said, The Fayetteville Observer reported. "The best president for the Lumbee tribe because she supports federal recognition."

Not only did Obama's support for Lumbee recognition come late in the game, it posed somewhat of a political dilemma. Long before he became the leading Democratic candidate, he met with Eastern Cherokee leaders in June 2007 and later spoke with Chief Michell Hicks on the phone.

The Eastern Cherokees are vehemently opposed to the Lumbee recognition bill. They say the Lumbees don't quality as an Indian tribe and at one point were identified as Cherokees.

But with the Lumbee population outnumbering the Eastern Cherokee population by nearly 4-1, Obama clearly had more to gain that he might lose by backing recognition, one of his campaign advisers noted. Most of North Carolina's Congressional delegation supports the bill, which already passed the House and has been cleared for a Senate vote.

Election Results:
North Carolina: County by County | Maps: New York Times

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