South Carolina Primary
Alice Keeney  /  AP
Poll Manager Brittany Coleman, left, assists Elizabeth Jenkins, right, and Craig Williams, center, as they prepare to cast their votes in the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary at Joseph Floyd Manor in Charleston, S.C., on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Alice Keeney)
By Associated Press Writer
updated 1/26/2008 2:16:57 PM ET 2008-01-26T19:16:57

South Carolina is where two presidential candidates lectured the media for focusing on race, but behind the scenes worked furiously to use the state's diversity to their advantage.

Race is an uncomfortable thing to discuss, especially in a national political campaign where you are trying to win the support of a majority white electorate. Nevertheless, both Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton had a strategy in South Carolina focused on race.

The Obama campaign has long argued that South Carolina would be his best state among the early voting states, figuring that interest in putting the first black president in office would drive the share of black Democratic primary voters above even the state's traditional 50 percent.

Obama sent a large staff to the state early, when polls showed him trailing far behind Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their focus was on building support in churches, beauty salons, barber shops and neighborhoods where black voters spend their time. The Clinton campaign sought out the support of black women in particular, knowing they are reliable voters.

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As Clinton saw her lead slip away, her campaign began calculating how she could afford to lose the state. As one of her advisers pointed out, Jesse Jackson won the state twice _ the suggestion being that a win there would be expected from a black candidate and not an indicator of national strength.

Obama tried to send a signal to white voters in the state that he had broader appeal by bringing 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to Charleston for an endorsement. At first glance, it was an odd place to announce Kerry's backing _ South Carolina was one of his rare losses in the 2004 primary and he lost to President Bush by a large margin there in the general election.

But the endorsement was meant to show that even though Obama was a young black candidate without a lot of experience, he had the backing of a seasoned white statesman who was part of the party establishment.

Finally, both candidates knew that John Edwards' participation in the contest was going to be a factor on the white side of the equation. At least one poll in the closing days had the former North Carolina senator with the greatest share of the white vote in a campaign where he has argued that he would be the most electable candidate across the South.

Edwards denies that's a commentary on the ability of a black or woman to get elected _ just that he's been tested before running in his home state while the other two have not run in Dixie.

But no matter what any candidate says about race, it's undeniable that it's still a factor in politics.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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