'Our Moment Is Now,' Obama Declares

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 10, 2007

COLUMBIA, S.C., Dec. 9 -- An overwhelmingly African American audience took center stage in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination here Sunday, as Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), joined by television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, appealed to black voters to set aside their doubts and seize the opportunity to send him to the White House in 2008.

"South Carolina, our moment is now," Obama said to an audience estimated by organizers as made up of 29,000 people at the University of South Carolina's football stadium. "Don't let them tell you we've got to wait. Our moment is now."

"Dr. King dreamed the dream," Winfrey said, referring to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "But we don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality."

Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) are in a fierce competition for the Democratic votes of both African Americans and women in South Carolina, whose Jan. 26 primary is the fourth contest on the nomination calendar next year. The state was given a prominent, early date by the Democratic National Committee because of its sizable black population.

Winfrey's appearance here underscored how vital the support of both groups is to Obama's hopes of winning the Democratic nomination, as well as the concern within his campaign that, in contrast to states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, the senator from Illinois is not nearly as well known here and needs to improve his standing, particularly among black women.

"They've both done the math, and they know that women are going to be 60 percent of the primary vote; and African Americans are going to be 55 percent of the vote, and African American women 65 percent of the African American vote," South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Carol Fowler said of the two leading candidates. "Both campaigns are fishing in the same pond."

As if to highlight the stakes here, former president Bill Clinton, who is enormously popular in the black community, spent parts of both Saturday and Sunday in the state, campaigning before African American audiences and attending church services in Charleston.

The most recent poll of South Carolina Democrats, a Mason-Dixon survey published in Sunday's editions of the Columbia newspaper the State, showed an extremely tight race, with Clinton at 27 percent and Obama at 25 percent. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) was third at 18 percent; 24 percent said they were still undecided.

Obama held a double-digit lead among African American voters, while Clinton enjoyed a similar lead among women. A recent poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that African American women admired Clinton more than Obama.

Obama's Sunday rally was held under ideal conditions -- an almost cloudless blue sky and temperatures hovering near 70 degrees. It was a stark contrast to the frigid wintry weather that greeted the senator and Winfrey in Iowa on Saturday.

Cars began filling the parking lots around Williams-Brice Stadium long before local pastors had finished their sermons here Sunday morning, and long lines of people snaked around the stadium entrances until the gates were opened at 12:30 p.m. The crowd was the largest of the 2008 campaign and rivaled some of the biggest crowds at the close of general-election campaigns.

Asked why she had come to the event, Afredia Boyd of Columbia said: "It was more Obama than Oprah. But she just kind of put the icing on the cake."

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