White Voters, Last-Minute Choices
By Kevin Merida
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- There was a duel going on outside of Hand Middle School. On one patch of dirt beside the driveway to the school were William and Sally Plyler, longtime friends of John Edwards, up from Raleigh, N.C., holding signs, waving to cars. On the other side of the driveway were two neighborhood kids, 8 and 11, shouting, "Obama! Obama!
"I've been very impressed with their knowledge," said Sally, the godmother of Edwards's young son, Jack, and an art consultant at the ArtSource gallery in Raleigh.
Hand Middle School is in the predominantly white, upper-income Shandon neighborhood of Columbia, populated by professors, doctors, lawyers. Edwards supporters thought this would be strong Edwards territory.
Austin Brown, 28, gave the former North Carolina senator his vote. "I thought he would bring back industry. Too many jobs are leaving the state," said Brown, who is about to join the Air Force.
Polls in South Carolina, as in many Southern states, have pointed to a racially polarized electorate. Obama pollster Cornell Belcher addressed this subject today, saying that whatever white support his candidate ends up getting in South Carolina will be good enough for now. "To me, this is the forest -- those white voters who are voting in the Democratic Party are not out of reach for Barack Obama."
Meanwhile, Belcher added, Obama was on the verge of producing "the kind of primary turnout we have not seen in a Southern state in a decade" by expanding the party's base of black voters.
"He has expanded the base in a way that Hillary and Edwards cannot," Belcher said.
At Hand Middle School, there was, indeed, some white support for Obama.
Jim McFadden, 26, who works at a health food deli, said he had made the decision to vote for Obama in 2004 after hearing his Democratic National Convention keynote speech. He figured then, Obama would be a candidate himself in 2008. "He looked like a president early on."
David Dreyfus, however, was much more torn. An international MBA student at the University of South Carolina, Dreyfus, 27, said he made his decision on the drive to the polls. How did he do it? "I don't know," he said. "I'm a big Clinton supporter. I don't know. I walked in there and my hand went to Obama. So I guess I just let my conscience decide for me."
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