In S.C., a Chilly Rally With Warm Sentiments
Updated 7:34 p.m.
By Shailagh Murray
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally, held five days before South Carolina's Democratic primary, drew around 6,000 to the steps of the statehouse here, among them all three Democratic presidential candidates.
Sen. Barack Obama arrived first after leading around 2,000 supporters on a march down Assembly Street. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton showed up later, at the start of the rally, and drew scattered cheers as she walked onstage to join Obama and former senator John Edwards.
The unseasonably cold weather and hard-blowing wind soon forced the three to retreat, however. "I've got to thaw out," Obama told Clinton, and he walked offstage with Edwards to find a warm room inside the statehouse. Clinton headed there as well, and it apparently made for quite a scene, according to staffers and other witnesses: a rare spontaneous encounter in the Democratic rivals' increasingly bitter battle.
The rally drew supporters from all three camps, who cheered and waved placards as their candidates rose to speak. But the subtext of the day was Obama's candidacy, viewed in deeply emotional terms across the South. One by one, local speakers addressed the potential gravity of Saturday's primary. South Carolina NAACP president Lonnie Randolph told the crowd, "You will determine the course of history for generations to come."
Clinton portrayed all three Democratic candidates -- a woman, an African American and a Southerner -- as groundbreaking figures. "That we stand here is a measure of Dr. King's life's work and his legacy," she said. But Clinton singled out Obama for special praise, calling him "an extraordinary young African American man, with so much to contribute."
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