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In South Carolina, Michelle Obama Courts Black Women

ANDERSON, S.C. - When the mayor of this upstate South Carolina town introduced Michelle Obama as the woman behind a great man this afternoon, a woman in the front row of the crowd of 300 corrected him -- in the midst of his speech. "She's the woman BESIDE a great man," the onlooker said.

Obama smiled, and made a broad gesture to her right side, "Yes, beside a great man."

Laughter spread through the audience in the open-air pavilion as they fanned themselves with Obama '08 signs. About two-thirds of the attendees were black women and the event provided a window into the inroads the Obama campaign hopes to make with that key demographic in this important early state.

About three in 10 primary voters iin the state are black women and Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are running neck-and-neck in the race for their votes, according to a poll released Thursday by Winthrop/ETV of black South Carolinians, although many remain undecided.

A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll of all Democratic primary voters showed Clinton with a wide lead in the state.

The event was open to the public but attracted and catered to the demographic in play. Before Obama took the stage, organizers played "Shining Star" by Earth, Wind & Fire. And Terence V. Roberts, the town's first black mayor, introduced Obama as a shining star before his "behind the man" faux pas.

The direct, familar tone of Obama's stump speech seemed to connect with her audience. Obama spoke of the couple's family history and home life, sticking to talk of values and hope, not policy and politics. "People want to hear something that touches their souls," she said.

Obama ran down her husband's resume, referring to him as "a brilliant brother" who went to Harvard, and she made reference to her childhood trips to Georgetown, S.C. where her father's family held big family reunions, a long-held tradition in the African American community.

After the speech, Ruth Hinton Beaver, a 62 year old black woman, stood in the back chatting with a church member with whom she attended the event. Michelle Obama "brings out points that are near and dear to us that maybe we can't hear in the others," said the retired educator. "She connects with us."

-Krissah Williams

By Bill Hamilton  |  September 17, 2007; 5:46 PM ET
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