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Democrats Set to Vote in S. Carolina

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) won the Democratic South Carolina primary in a landslide Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008, attracting a biracial coalition and giving his candidacy a much-needed boost as the presidential race moves toward a 22-state showdown on Feb. 5.

"We'll see what happens when people actually start voting tomorrow," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. "New Hampshire has taught us not to follow the polls too closely."

But polls showed Obama's support among white voters declining in recent days, an indication, his campaign conceded, that the Clintons' efforts to blunt his momentum may be working. Another frustration has been a recent uptick in support for Edwards. The shift, mainly among white voters, has come in part at Obama's expense, the senator's advisers said.

By any measure, this has been the toughest and angriest battle of the Democratic campaign. Monday's debate featured personal attacks and acrimonious exchanges, and Bill Clinton drew fire from Obama and his campaign for what they said are distortions of the Illinois senator's statements about another former president, Ronald Reagan.

The hostility peaked with a pair of radio ads, one aired by the Clinton campaign challenging Obama for a statement about Republicans being the party of ideas. The Obama campaign countered with an ad that said Clinton would "say anything" to win and would "change nothing" if elected.

They then pulled the ads and called for the second cease-fire in two weeks. But both sides remained on edge.

Obama advisers continue to seethe over what they consider a deliberate effort by the Clintons to distort his record. "If they're going to continue to make dishonest attacks, we're going to respond to it," said Burton, the Obama spokesman. Howard Wolfson, Clinton's campaign manager, accused the Obama team of trying to tarnish the former president. "What we've seen in the last week is a more overt, above-ground effort on the part of the Obama campaign and his surrogates to undermine the president. . . . I believe that is going to backfire because I believe he remains enormously popular. . . . That, to me, is a lasting effect out of South Carolina."

Both campaigns were looking past South Carolina even as they appealed for votes on Friday.

Clinton caught the Obama campaign by surprise by urging her delegates to the party's national convention in Denver to support the seating of delegations from Florida and Michigan. The Democratic National Committee penalized both states for moving their primaries earlier in violation of party rules. She said it is "important to send a message" to citizens that their votes count.

The Democratic candidates vowed not to campaign in Florida after the DNC sanctions. Clinton will attend a fundraiser there before the primary, a senior aide said, which does not violate that pledge.

Obama advisers saw that as an effort to boost the significance of Tuesday's Democratic primary in Florida, where Clinton has held a big lead in the polls. The primary is only a beauty contest -- no delegates will be awarded, because of the DNC sanctions -- but Obama advisers fear that Clinton could reap a public relations boost.

A much broader playing field awaits the candidates as of Sunday morning, but Obama's first stops after South Carolina will be Georgia and Alabama, two more Southern states with large black populations.

He plans to attend President Bush's State of the Union address on Monday and will then begin a new phase of his campaign. He plans to give a series of speeches that senior adviser David Axelrod said will address "fundamental issues of his campaign."

Those include Obama's call for unity and for a new leadership style in Washington, but he will focus increasingly on the economy, a pressing concern among voters, and one to which Obama has so far given only piecemeal attention.

Advertising will carry much of the load. The Obama team has made extended ad buys in Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Mexico, Tennessee and Utah.

"All the campaigns are trying to figure out how many states you can play in," said senior Obama adviser Steve Hildebrand. "This is the single most expensive Super Tuesday in history, and we all need to figure out where we put our resources and what we can afford."

Clinton will spend part of Monday in Boston -- Massachusetts also has a primary on Feb. 5 -- and then attend the State of the Union address. She is scheduled to end Saturday in Nashville, but it is not clear whether she plans to leave South Carolina before the polls close or stay later if her prospects are bright.

Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut, with the Clinton campaign, contributed to this report. Murray reported from the Obama campaign.

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