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Clinton Courts S.C.'s Black Voters

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Hundreds waited in line outside Allen University's Adams Gymnatorium here for the chance to hear Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton speak in her first visit to South Carolina as a presidential candidate.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Sen. Clinton reacts to the crowds as she arrives Monday for a town hall event at Allen University in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo)

After a marching band and gospel choir warmed up the crowd, Clinton appeared to raucous applause. She was introduced by state Sen. Darrell Jackson, whose recent announcement that he is support Clinton in the state's Democratic primary, has created some controversy.

Clinton delivered her standard stump speech with a heavy emphasis on domestic priorities from health care to energy to college tuition. But she also framed the discussion in historic terms. "I believe this presidential campaign is about breaking barriers," Clinton said. "This is the campaign and I am the candidate."

Clinton reiterated her opposition to President Bush's plans to send more U.S. troops to Iraq and noted that she has supported a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq for the last two years -- a recent point of contention between she and Sen. Barack Obama. (Speaking of Obama, he has won the endorsement of former South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian.)

Clinton also sought to draw a contrast with some of her Democratic rivals on the issue of terrorism. "Some people may be running who may tell you that we don't face a real threat from terrorism," she said. "I am not one of those."

This historically black university -- founded in 1870 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church -- was a fitting backdrop for Clinton's visit, which focused heavily on courting the African American voters considered crucial winning the Palmetto State's primary next year.

Polling has repeatedly shown Clinton running well ahead of her rivals, including Obama. Obama spent Saturday night in Columbia and was greeted by large crowds pining for a chance to catch a glimpse of America's newest political rock star.

Much of Clinton's appeal among black voters is attributed to her husband's popularity. Even the mention of President Bill Clinton brought a roar from the crowd, and Sen. Clinton repeatedly referenced her husband's administration during her comments. Asked why she was best qualified to handle the situation in Iraq, Clinton said: "Obviously, during the eight years of Bill's presidency, I had a front row seat on history to see the difficult decision any commander in chief has to make. I learned both what works and what doesn't work."

From Columbia Clinton will head to Florence for an event with Florence Mayor Frank Willis and then to Charleston for a gala honoring Rep. Jim Clyburn -- the state's most influential black politician.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 19, 2007; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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