South Carolina: It used to be Edwards country
A poll shows him at 6 percent among blacks, a key bloc.
Constance Kilgore voted for John Edwards four years ago, but the former senator, a South Carolina native, was scarcely on her mind Monday as she listened to the three leading Democratic candidates speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally here.Skip to next paragraph
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"Edwards? He's good also," said Ms. Kilgore, a high school janitor who traveled to the State House from Spartanburg, an hour and a half away. "But on account of Miss Clinton being a woman and Obama being an African-American, it's different now."
No one has to tell Mr. Edwards that. South Carolina rewarded Edwards with his only victory in the 2004 primaries – a 45 percent to 30 percent win over Sen. John Kerry. This time, he remains a faraway third in the polls, his favorite son pitch no match for his rivals' celebrity, especially among black voters, who make up half the Democratic voters here.
In a Rasmussen poll released Wednesday, Edwards drew just 6 percent of the African-American vote here, compared with 68 percent for Sen. Barack Obama and 16 percent for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Edwards is faring better with white South Carolinians, but still trails Senator Clinton by a large margin ahead of the Democratic primary Saturday.
The inertia of his candidacy here has vexed Edwards and his supporters, who had counted on the state to help pierce perceptions of the Democratic contest as a two-person battle. A significant loss in his native state is likely to renew questions about his staying power and his reasons for staying in the race.
"I think it's the same problem I have everywhere – we have overwhelming national publicity for two candidates," Edwards told reporters after a campaign stop in Winnsboro, S.C., earlier this week. "When I get heard in the African-American community, they'll understand that I'm the strongest proponent of doing something about poverty, for universal healthcare, for raising the minimum wage, for a whole group of things that directly impacts the African-American community."
But even some of his strongest supporters concede there was little he could do here to blunt the historymaking candidacies of his rivals. Senator Obama is the first African-American with a strong chance at his party's nomination, and Clinton, the first woman. Her husband, Bill Clinton, was so close to the African-American community he was nicknamed "the first black president."
"There's no doubt that the dynamics of the 2008 race are way, way different than 2004," says Ken Campbell, chairman of the county Democratic Party in Seneca, S.C., the town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where Edwards was born.
Some analysts suspect he may try to amass enough delegates in the Super Tuesday primaries on Feb. 5 to play "kingmaker" at the national conventions this summer, particularly if neither Obama nor Clinton draws enough before then to claim the nomination. But that is a risky strategy, especially if staying in the race diverts votes from Obama, whom he appears to favor over Clinton.