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

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008; 7:59 PM

GREENWOOD, S.C., Jan. 8 -- Sen. 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 strong showing in New Hampshire polls, blacks in Greenwood and throughout South Carolina have reason to be even more thrilled, despite lingering concerns about whether this nation is ready to elect a black 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 he would support Obama, but "I'm going to be a little apprehensive."

"I'm going to vote for the hope and the dream," he said.

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

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

Obama will appear in Charleston on Thursday, and Clinton is likely to appear here before the vote as well, although her campaign advisers are now signaling that she may shift her focus to the more than 20 states, including California, that vote Feb. 5.

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 black, suggest Obama's strong support in two states with overwhelming 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 woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, made a similar argument in an interview with Essence magazine last week, 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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