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South Carolina Votes in Crucial Democratic Party Contest

Officials in South Carolina expect a large turnout as voters go to the polls in that state's Democratic primary. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from the state capital, Columbia, Senator Barack Obama is favored to win, but Senator Hillary Clinton has also made a big effort in this first presidential primary in a southern state.

The last public opinion polls published before polls opened on Saturday show Barack Obama with a substantial lead, based largely on strong support from black voters. But a number of factors could affect the final outcome. Hillary Clinton made a last-minute effort in the state, appearing at a local college Friday and rallying support among women and some black leaders who have a long relationship with her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Another factor is the possible effect of former Senator John Edwards, also running in the Democratic primary. He was born here and served as senator from the nearby state of North Carolina. Although he is expected to come in a distant third here, analysts believe a surge of support for a native son could reduce the number of votes for Obama.

South Carolina has become important for Obama who has not had a win since the Iowa caucuses on January 3. A good showing here by Hillary Clinton could help her maintain the momentum she gained by winning in New Hampshire and Nevada.

Whatever happens in South Carolina could also have an impact on so called "Super Tuesday" February 5, when 22 states hold primaries and caucuses.

With so much at stake, the candidates have spent lavishly on television commercials. Barack Obama's ads have emphasized his call for change.

OBAMA: "I'll be a president who ends the tax break for companies that ship jobs overseas and put a middle-class tax cut into the pocket of working Americans, and I will be a president who finally ends this war in Iraq and brings our troops home. We are one nation, and our time for change has come."

Hillary Clinton has highlighted her attacks on the Bush administration and what she regards as favoritism for big corporations.

CLINTON: "The oil companies, predatory student loan companies, the insurance companies and the drug companies have had seven years of a president who stands up for them. I intend to be a president who stands up for all of you."

In her campaign here, Clinton has focused on what she would do as president and has attacked the Bush administration more than her opponents. But Bill Clinton has traveled the state attacking Obama in such strong terms that some local black leaders have become uncomfortable with it.

South Carolina Democratic Congressman James Clyburn publicly told the former president to "chill." Others have asked him to tone down his rhetoric, which they say belittles the first black candidate with a real chance at winning the presidency.

Several news analysts have suggested that the Clintons deliberately introduced race into this campaign in an effort to divide the electorate. Barack Obama won in Iowa, a state that is more than 90 percent white, and did well among whites in other states, but polls here show he has overwhelming support among blacks, but very little among whites, even though polls taken earlier in the month showed he had substantial numbers of whites willing to vote for him.

Clinton critics say this tactic will pay off in future contests where many white voters could see Obama as a candidate for blacks, but not for all.

Clinton defenders say there is no evidence to support this charge. They say former President Clinton has done what might be expected of any spouse in defending Hillary Clinton from what he regards as unfair attacks from Obama supporters.