Two key black political leaders in South Carolina who backed John Edwards in 2004 said Tuesday they are supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
State Sens. Robert Ford and Darrell Jackson told The Associated Press they believe Clinton is the only Democrat who can win the presidency. Both said they had been courted by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama; Ford said Obama winning the primary would drag down the rest of the party.
"It's a slim possibility for him to get the nomination, but then everybody else is doomed," Ford said. "Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose - because he's black and he's top of the ticket. We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything."
"I'm a gambling man. I love Obama," Ford said. "But I'm not going to kill myself."
Former president lends a hand
Ford said he was swayed by calls from former President Clinton and Hillary Clinton. The Charleston lawmaker said she has solid support in his district, one of the key regions in the state with a major black Democratic voting population.
Clinton's campaign said it welcomed the lawmakers' support, but disagreed with Ford's contention that Obama could harm a Democratic ticket. "I think it's just flat-out wrong," said spokesman Mo Elleithee.
One Obama ally rejected Ford's assessment.
"I think that Senator Ford's comments were reprehensible," said Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. "I believe Democratic prospects would soar, not slump."
Later in the day, Ford said he had been besieged by criticism and apologized for his characterization of Obama's chances. If Clinton doesn't win the nomination, any of the other candidates are well suited to take the White House, Ford said.
"If I caused anybody - including myself - any pain about the comments I made earlier, then I want to apologize to myself and to Senator Obama and any of his supporters," Ford said.
Darrell Jackson, who also is the minister of a large church in the state's capital city, said Edwards - a South Carolina native who won the state's Democratic primary three years ago - had his chance.
"I feel as if he's had his opportunity," he said.
Dueling campaign visits pending
Darrell Jackson said Edwards was a wonderful individual and he considers Obama a friend, but Clinton "is our best shot."
John Moylan, campaign director for Edwards in South Carolina, shrugged off the defections and predicted Edwards would win the state.
The endorsements come just days before Obama and Clinton campaign in the state for the first time in the 2008 race.
Jackson and Ford took credit for turning out black voters for Edwards in 2004 in a state where half the primary voters are black. In his only primary victory, Edwards won 37 percent of the vote, slightly better than Sen. John Kerry.
Support from black voters is key in South Carolina, where 49 percent of the Democratic presidential primary vote came from blacks in 2004. The state will host the first Southern primaries for both the GOP and Democrats in 2008.