The Word at Ward 9 in Columbia
By Kevin Merida
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- At the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, Columbia City Councilman E.W. Cromartie, II was outside greeting voters, talking about hope.
As the first African American elected to the council, in 1983, hope was something he knew about. Now, Cromartie was exhorting voters not only to re-elect him in an upcoming council election but to send Barack Obama on his way to the Democratic presidential nomination. "If he can do it, other black boys can do it," said Cromartie. "It's an opportunity for hope."
By 4 p.m., about 300 of the 1,400 registered voters had cast ballots. The lodge is in Ward 9, in the historic black Waverly neighborhood of Columbia. It is a middle-income community thought to be favorable to Obama.
Rick Wade, state director of Obama's campaign here, said there were reports of good turnout across the state, especially in the black precincts. "We've done all of the right things to reach our voters," he said.
Some votes had to be earned the hard way.
Camille Weston, a 6th grade teacher, spoke of her difficulty. She was standing in the chill with her mother after casting her vote, reflecting on all that had gone through her mind.
"I tell you," she said, "this was a tough one. I was tossed between Hillary and Obama. I was thinking Hillary because she has weathered so many storms. She had her personal life plastered all over the world. And I thought, if she can weather all of that, she can handle anything as president."
And then there was Obama. "I'd love seeing two little black girls in the White House," she said, referring to the Illinois senator's daughters. "That would be a great change."
As she was mulling her choice, an Obama campaign canvasser rang her doorbell this morning. She asked what he had brought her -- a flier, a button, a postcard? He had nothing. Weston was not impressed with that. "If you're knocking on people's doors, you have to have something to give them."
But then the canvasser took his own button off his lapel and gave it to her. "It wasn't so much the button. It was that he was willing to give me something that was important to him."
Weston ultimately decided to vote Obama. "A new beginning."
And she also had a thought: "I'm thinking maybe he could get Al Gore on the ticket."
Weston's mother, Carolyn, who's in her 80s and walks with a cane, said she remembers when blacks weren't allowed to work at polling stations. She was among the first to do so in the mid-1960s. There was no way she wasn't voting for Obama.
"Because he's young, I think they're doubtful about him," she said. "But give him a chance to prove himself."
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