Obama Tries to Prove Electability to Blacks in S.C.

Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) addresses his supporters after the New Hampshire primary election results filter in. Video by AP, Editor: Jacqueline Refo/
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

GREENWOOD, S.C., Jan. 8 -- Barack Obama's visit in June to this rural town so delighted its African American residents that their only complaint was that not enough people had been invited to the small gathering.

After Obama's win in Iowa and his second-place finish in New Hampshire, blacks in Greenwood and throughout South Carolina have reason to be even more pleased, despite lingering concerns about whether the nation is ready to elect an African American president.

"I was excited" about Obama's win in Iowa, Danessa Kilpatrick said as she shopped at a Wal-Mart here Tuesday. But "I don't know if everybody is that open-minded about having a black president," added Kilpatrick, who attends Lander University in Greenwood and is studying to become a teacher.

James Roberson, who works at the airport in Columbia, said that he would support Obama, but that he was "going to be a little apprehensive."

He added: "I'm going to vote for the hope and the dream."

The Democratic race now shifts to this state, where on Jan. 26 voters will choose between a man who could become the nation's first African American president and Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose husband was so popular among blacks that he was jokingly referred to as the "first black president."

The two candidates have long competed for black support here because it will be the first primary state with a large number of African American voters. Blacks are expected to make up about half of the Democratic electorate, and Clinton and Obama have fought over and secured the endorsements of a number of pastors and elected officials.

Obama plans to be in Charleston on Thursday, and Clinton is likely to appear in the state before the vote as well.

Before Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton and Obama had polled about even among black voters. But interviews in this town of more than 20,000, about half of whom are African American, suggest that Obama's strong performance in two states with overwhelmingly white populations may solidify his standing among blacks in South Carolina.

"That makes me feel better about his chances," Kilpatrick said. Her friend Termina Martin was more emphatic, saying of the country, "We're ready."

Obama, the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, made a similar argument in an interview with Essence magazine a day after his Iowa triumph.

"If there's any African American voter out there who still thinks whites won't vote for me," Obama said, "they just need to read the papers this morning and that should put that to rest."

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