Democrats Set to Vote in S. Carolina
Obama Leads, but Polls Show a Racial Divide
Saturday, January 26, 2008
CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan. 25 -- Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton raced through a final day of campaigning before Saturday's South Carolina Democratic primary, after a week of angry bickering and with the electorate here polarized along racial lines.
Obama looked to Saturday's vote in the first Southern presidential contest of the 2008 nomination season to rebound after disappointing losses to Clinton in New Hampshire and Nevada, which followed his win in Iowa at the beginning of the month.
Late polls showed Obama (Ill.) leading Clinton (N.Y.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.), and veterans of Democratic campaigns in the state reported that Obama has the superior organization. A defeat here would represent a major setback for Obama heading into Feb. 5, when more than half of the pledged delegates to the national convention are at stake in tests in 22 states.
The recent focus on race has stirred considerable angst in Obama's inner circle, and as the primary campaign came to a close here, his effort took on a hurried quality, as though the candidate were eager to move past the controversies and arguments of the week.
Clinton left the state after Monday's rancorous debate in Myrtle Beach, appearing to play down the importance of Saturday's primary by campaigning in several states with Feb. 5 contests. Her advisers continued to try to lower expectations by predicting an Obama victory, but her packed schedule here over the final two days suggested she saw at least an opportunity to cut into his support.
In a round of morning interviews, Clinton sought to smooth over controversy about the role that her husband, Bill Clinton, has played here this week, calling on all sides to tone down their rhetoric while acknowledging that the former president had gone too far in his criticism of Obama.
"He gets really passionate about making the case for me," she said on CBS's "The Early Show." "He said several times yesterday that maybe he got a little bit carried away."
Edwards, who was born in South Carolina and won the state four years ago, closed out the campaign here looking to benefit from the fight between the two front-runners. Calling himself the candidate from the "grown-up wing of the Democratic Party," he appealed to fellow Southerners to keep his candidacy alive after his losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
South Carolina drew a prime spot on the Democratic Party's nominating calendar in large part because of the size and significance of the state's black electorate. Early on, the primary appeared likely to be an intriguing competition between an African American with broad appeal to white voters and a woman with strong ties to the black community.
Instead, what has developed is an electorate polarized along racial lines. An MSNBC-McClatchy newspapers poll this week showed Obama with 59 percent of the black vote and about 25 percent for Clinton. Among white voters, Obama's support is barely in the double digits, with Edwards narrowly leading Clinton among the rest of the white community.
More than four in five African American voters said they have a favorable impression of Obama, but only about a third of white voters have a positive view of his candidacy. Big majorities of white voters give Clinton and Edwards positive marks, but fewer than half of blacks rated them positively.
The racial polarization concerns Democrats on all sides of the primary fight here, but it will not be clear until Saturday's primary results how the division might affect the campaign going forward. Obama has demonstrated clear appeal across racial lines, and his advisers -- and other Democrats -- expect that to continue in future contests.