In S.C., Sen. Clinton Targets Black Vote

By Chris Cillizza Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

COLUMBIA, S.C., Feb. 19 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York courted black voters, considered crucial to securing the Democratic presidential nomination, in a series of campaign stops in South Carolina on Monday in which she cast the 2008 election as a chance to make history.

"I believe this presidential campaign is about breaking barriers," Clinton said at a town hall meeting in the state's capital. "This is the campaign, and I am the candidate."

Each of Clinton's appearances was aimed at projecting her as the candidate best equipped to deal with the hopes and hardships of black voters. She called on state leaders to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House here, as have several other Democratic candidates. Then, after her town hall event at Allen University -- a historically black institution in Columbia -- she headed south to a gathering in Florence in honor of Mayor Frank Willis.

Clinton closed the day in Charleston, speaking at a gala honoring Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is widely regarded as the most influential black politician in the state. Clinton praised Clyburn -- the third-ranking Democrat in the House -- for his efforts "to find common ground and then stand his ground."

She also noted that the Book of James is one of her favorites in the New Testament -- a religious reference that was greeted with calls of approval and clapping by the overflow crowd packed into a union hall.

Clyburn returned the favor moments later, touting Clinton's "tremendous record of public service and a tremendous campaign that she is running."

Clinton's visit came less than 48 hours after Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) campaigned here, and even during Clinton's speech in Columbia word was circulating that Obama had secured the endorsement of Dick Harpootlian, a former state party chairman.

Obama's attempt to step on Clinton's day in South Carolina underscored the behind-the-scenes back-and-forth between the two top Democratic candidates for the support of black voters, who are expected to make up about half of the electorate in the state's presidential primary Jan. 29.

Clinton scored something of a coup last week by securing the endorsement of state Sen. Darrell Jackson, an influential leader in South Carolina's black community. But the momentum was compromised by allegations that she secured Jackson's support by offering him a lucrative consulting contract.

Jackson, the emcee at the Columbia event, has insisted that several campaigns had made offers to hire his consulting firm. On Monday, Clinton, too, denied any quid pro quo.

These events were far from the minds of the hundreds of people who packed halls across the state to catch a glimpse of Clinton.

Chris Lykes, a black man from Swansea who attended the Columbia meeting, reflected the ambivalence of voters torn between their strong loyalties to Clinton and their attraction to a new face in Obama.

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