Clyburn: Momentum Key in S.C. Race
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said that a "snapshot" of the presidential race today revealed a two-person contest in South Carolina between Sens. Hillary Rodham and Barack Obama but added that voters will be closely watching what happens in places like Iowa and New Hampshire before making up their minds.
"If one of these top two were to falter, finish third or fourth in Iowa, it would be a different ballgame," said Clyburn.
Asked what the three main issues were on the minds of South Carolina Democrats, Clyburn said simply: "Healthcare first, healthcare second, healthcare third." Iraq, added Clyburn, is a less clear political winner for his party in South Carolina than in other parts of the country due to the strong military presence in the state. "Even if you're for or against [the war], you're all about health care," he said.
Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, made his comments during an interview for washingtonpost.com's "PostTalk" program.
During the course of the 20-minute sitdown, Clyburn made clear he was reluctant to endorse any candidate prior to the Iowa caucuses citing his experience in 2004.
"I was with [former Missouri Rep. Dick] Gephardt four years ago and I thought we had it all set up for him in South Carolina," said Clyburn. "But the problem is he didn't get to South Carolina." (After a poor showing in Iowa, Gephardt dropped his candidacy.)
So, does that mean Clyburn won't make an endorsement? Not necessarily. "I'm not making any plans to endorse," he said, a statement that leaves him enough wiggle room that he could eventually choose to do so. He added an endorsement - if one came - would likely be just before the South Carolina vote.
Clyburn said that South Carolina voters -- particularly in the African-American community -- will be heavily influenced by the votes that come before the state's primary on Jan. 29.
Black voters, argued Clyburn, are aware that they make up a minority of the population in the United States and that to win the White House in 2008 the Democratic candidate must be able to demonstrate considerable appeal among white voters.
That is the fundamental challenge for Obama, said Clyburn. If Obama is able to win or come in a close second in places like Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, Clyburn predicted the Illinois Senator would "sweep" the black vote in South Carolina -- giving him a major leg up in winning the state's primary.
--Chris Cillizza and Dan Balz
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