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South Carolina Democrats Prepare for Presidential Primary Vote

The next contest on the road to the U.S. presidency is the Democratic primary in South Carolina, which will be held on Saturday. VOA's Greg Flakus is in Columbia, South Carolina and has this report.

This could be an easy win for Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who has several points lead in public opinion polls over his closest rival, New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who was born in South Carolina, is a distant third in the polls.

In recent days, Senator Clinton has been mostly campaigning elsewhere, leaving her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to travel around the state making the case for her. Both of them have leveled attacks at Obama, questioning his readiness for the presidency and attacking his record as a politician.

Obama has complained that he is, in effect, confronted by two opponents in one candidate and that much of what the former president is saying about him is wrong.

"The only thing I have been concerned about is when he makes mis-statements about my records," he said. "That's what I'm seeking to correct. And I do hold the Clinton campaign as a whole accountable for statements made by such high-profile surrogates."

Bill Clinton has shown no sign of letting up in his attacks, justifying his part in the campaign as a normal part of the process.

"This is a lot harder for me than campaigning for myself ever was," he said. "When I was running, I didn't give a rip what anybody said about me. It's weird, you know, but if you love somebody, you think they'd be good. It's a lot harder."

But the Clinton barrage has stirred resentment among blacks in South Carolina, some of whom have expressed anger over statements that they believed were intended to belittle the first African American with a good chance of winning the presidency. On the other hand, the Clintons still enjoy widespread popularity among many blacks, especially among women.

A poll published this week by Reuters, C-SPAN and the Zogby polling organization shows that 76 percent of blacks who are likely to vote in Saturday's primary favor Obama, with only nine percent backing Clinton. However, among black women, Obama's percentage falls to just over 50 percent, with Hillary Clinton at 23 percent.

Among white men, the poll shows, John Edwards is ahead, with 32 percent, with Clinton at 31 percent and Obama far behind with 21 percent. Clinton holds a slight lead over John Edwards among white women, with Obama at 16 percent.

South Carolina is about 30 percent black, but in the Democratic primary held here in 2004, around 50 percent of the voters were black and a big turnout of blacks this time could provide a landslide win for Obama.

Only a few weeks ago Clinton led in the polls here, but that was before Obama won the Iowa caucuses, leaving her in third place. The win in Iowa, which is around 97 percent white, convinced blacks here that Obama was a credible candidate who could win nationally.

But political analysts say a big win here, based on overwhelming support from blacks, could undermine Obama's appeal to whites in upcoming primaries. The biggest test for all the candidates will come on February 5, the so-called Super Tuesday when contests are held in 22 states.