Last minute grab for votes in South Carolina

January 26, 2008 6:44:59 AM PST
African-American and women voters may hold the key for victory for the Democratic candidates in South Carolina. Those groups are being targeted by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

This is the primary that Obama is expected to win because of his growing popularity among African-American voters, who happen to make up half of the Democratic electorate there. Obama wants to win without being labeled as the black candidate, a tough balancing act, which is further complicated by the presence of Bill Clinton, who is still popular among black voters as he campaigns for his wife.

A lot of folks from Chicago were weighing in.

"We are leaving no stone unturned," said Betsy Ebeling, a lifelong friend of Hillary Clinton. She said she is very close to the former president Bill Clinton, whose attacks on Obama in recent days have sparked one of the biggest controversies in the entire campaign.

"He is the consummate politician and loves campaigning. He feels everything is warming up. I think he's doing a great job," said Ebeling.

Chicago educator Sophia King was a big fan of the Clintons but said she has gotten turned off by their confrontational brand of politics. She is working for Obama after volunteering in Iowa and Nevada.

"I still have more respect for Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, and I think over the years as I have seen them progress in politics, they have become more part of the machine," said King.

She is one of the many Obama supporters from the Chicago area who are volunteering in South Carolina this week, while Ebeling joined a caravan of "women for Hillary" from all over the country, who have been visiting every corner of South Carolina.

"Everyone has been welcoming as they have been in other states and as interested in the political system, feel very responsible for their votes and as close-mouthed as they were, particularly in New Hampshire," said Eberling.

"There are so many good candidates to choose from. Barack is the one who can bring change," said Anna Ruch, Obama campaign.

"It's once in a lifetime, if you're lucky, that you get to support a candidate and follow him," said Judy Lewis, Obama campaign.

In the last polls Friday, four of them showed Obama with a comfortable lead over Clinton and John Edwards because of very strong black support. But a troubling factor in those polls is a drop in white support, which is moving toward Clinton and Edwards.

That could be a problem for Obama as he heads for 22 states, including Illinois on February 5. Those are states where there are many more white voters than blacks. But those polls, as we've learned, can be inconclusive, especially with a lot of undecided voters, the so-called "Clinton factor," Bill's continuing popularity in South Carolina, Hillary's widespread support among female voters, and John Edwards' roots in the South. With things very much up in the air, all three Democrats worked the entire state very hard on Friday, the final day of the campaign.

Hillary Clinton, according to the latest polls, probably won't be getting a majority of South Carolina's sizable African-American vote Saturday. But most of the black political establishment is solidly behind her, especially the older elected officials, who bonded with her husband Bill and to some extent Hillary when they were in the White House in the 1990s.

"The country was such a mess. We need someone with experience," said Bernice Scott, Richland County Council.

"I don't need to go back and live in the White House. I've done that. I'm going back to try to change the country and make history with all of you," Clinton said Friday.

Barack Obama has another army of mostly young volunteers in South Carolina to reach beyond the political establishment for rank-and-file voters, especially women. Not just African-Americans, because nearly 60 percent of South Carolina's Democratic vote is female and that's where Clinton's support is strongest, like it was in New Hampshire and Nevada.

"We've had folks from all across the state working hard to support Senator Obama. So we feel very good about the operation we've put together across the state," said Josh Earnest, Obama campaign.

The latest polls indicate that John Edwards is running third but on the rise as he argues that while Bill and Hillary are battling with Obama over politics, "I'm not interested in these squabbles."

Edwards is focusing on important issues that matter to people, which prompted comment from Hillary on Good Morning America Friday.

"I think all of us need to just take a deep breath here because, obviously, we know we'll have a united Democratic party once this nomination is determined, we'll go united into the fall election and take on whomever the Republicans decide to nominate," Clinton said.

In the interest of unity, at least temporarily, the Clinton campaign pulled a radio ad off the air that was said to be misleading in its attack on Obama. Interestingly enough, a picture focus surfaced Friday of Hillary with indicted Chicago businessman Tony Rezko, whom Clinton says she doesn't remember. But it is interesting because Rezko has caused a lot of problems for Barack Obama.