Democratic hopefuls seek to widen appeal

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks at a rally in Charleston, S.C. on Friday.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2008 at 11:03 p.m.

GREENVILLE, S.C. - As Democrats headed on Friday toward the finish line of their first presidential primary in the South, the three candidates sought to widen their appeal to voters outside their core support groups.

The candidates and their allies also had a late round of sparring. In a swing here, John Edwards accused Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama of bringing "New York and Chicago politics to South Carolina,'' while calling himself the sole "grown-up'' in the race.

Speaking to reporters about 35 miles from his hometown, Seneca, Edwards appeared buoyed by a poll showing small gains of support in a state that he won in the 2004 primaries.

Advisers pointed to that poll, as well as Clinton's return here on Thursday after a two-day absence, as signs that Edwards is making a strong drive for runner-up behind Obama, who appears to be in the lead.

"While they're intent on tearing each other down,'' Edwards said, "I'm intent on building up the people of South Carolina, giving them a real chance, focusing on jobs, health care, things that really affect their day-to-day lives.''

His campaign released a television commercial on Friday, "Grown Up,'' using scenes from the Democratic debate on Monday when Clinton and Obama fired back at each other and Edwards intervened, calling it squabbling.

Obama raced through five campaign stops, making last-minute appeals in each corner of the state in a contest critical to his candidacy

Before holding rallies in Clemson, Florence and Columbia, Obama sat down with small groups of women at two round-table events, seeking to increase his support among women, who have favored Clinton in the last two states in the Democratic nominating fight.

"Men honestly should be carrying the same burden,'' Obama told a women's discussion group in Charleston. "But I'll be honest with you. Women are carrying a bigger load. The reason I know this? I was raised by a single mom.''

Although Obama enjoys a strong base of support among African-American voters, who state Democratic officials predict will be up to 60 percent of the voters on Saturday, he also drew a predominantly white crowd of several thousand into the chill of an outdoor amphitheater at Clemson University.

Race has weighed heavily in the contest, particularly in exchanges between supporters of Clinton and Obama. Strategists for Obama worry that the discussions have driven whites away from his candidacy, and some polls this week suggested that his support among whites had fallen off.

If the trend materializes in the voting, his ability to transcend race could come into question and pose complications in the more than 20 states that vote on Feb. 5.

Another new poll, by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, suggested growing racial polarization nationally in the Democratic contest after weeks of discussion about race that began with Clinton's remarks about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that some Obama supporters portrayed as minimizing King's role in enacting civil rights laws.

In the poll in December, Clinton held a 40 percent to 23 percent lead over Obama among whites, as well as support from a majority of African-Americans. Clinton's lead among whites has widened, 53 percent to 24 percent, and Obama has a 63 percent to 23 percent lead over Clinton among African-Americans.

For her part, Clinton pursued a two-front strategy on Friday as she courted black voters and shook hands at a barbecue joint while her advisers sought to put Obama on the defensive over the Iraq war and remarks praising Republicans.

Clinton spent the morning at Benedict College, a predominantly black institution in Columbia, the state capital, emphasizing her plans to increase Pell grants, simplify student loans and provide tax credits for college tuition.

As she ate pulled pork and collard greens with supporters, Clinton's advisers held a conference call with reporters, ostensibly to address "Obama campaign attacks.'' But the participants, including the chief strategist, Mark Penn; Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts; and a former White House spokesman, Mike McCurry, mostly recycled the attacks between the Clinton and Obama camps.

Clinton's campaign also announced that she would support seating nominating delegates from Florida and Michigan at the national convention in August, despite party rules that punished those states for unilaterally moving up their primaries to January.

Although Clinton, like other Democrats, promised not to campaign in either state, she ended up winning the Michigan primary.

Appearing on "Today'' on NBC-TV on Friday, Clinton was confronted with a photograph of her and President Bill Clinton standing alongside Antoin Rezko, a Chicago businessman who has been indicted on fraud charges.

Clinton said she had no memory of posing with Rezko, once a major fundraiser for Obama.

Records show that he never donated money to President Bill Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton. Political insiders said the photo might have been taken at a 1997 fundraiser in Chicago for Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill.

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