Clinton gets emotional endorsements in SC

On eve of primary
January 25, 2008 2:55:56 PM PST
Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton gathered emotional endorsements Friday from two prominent black women who implored blacks to set aside their excitement about her rival Barack Obama's campaign to be the first black president.In the run-up to Saturday's South Carolina Democratic primary, the first in which blacks could play a pivotal role, Clinton has spoken to mostly white audiences while her husband, Bill, the former president, has courted blacks. But that changed Friday when she made an explicit pitch for black support in a speech at a historically black college in South Carolina's state capital surrounded by prominent black supporters.

The New York senator was welcomed to the stage by two black colleagues from her home state - former New York Mayor David Dinkins and House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel - who praised Clinton as a public servant and friend.

Polls show blacks strongly supporting Obama in the state, while Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards roughly split the white vote.

Stacey Jones, a Benedict College Dean who described herself as "a woman, an African American, a size 9 wide and any other label you choose to use," said she understood why many blacks might pause before voting Saturday for Clinton.

"For some of us it may take a very, very bold step to walk into that voting booth and focus on our community's future rather than acting on pure emotion. Let's do the right thing and elect Sen. Hillary Clinton president of the United States," she said to applause.

She was followed by Richland County Councilwoman Bernice Scott, who bluntly told the audience "this race is not about race or gender."

Scott said the decision should come down to which candidate can "feed the sheep."

"Senator Clinton has a record that can feed everybody. And we need to be fed," she said.

The former first lady has tried to remain above the fray most of the week after an unusually rancorous debate Monday where she and Obama traded barbs. She's criticized President Bush on the stump and rarely mentioned her top rival, leaving Bill Clinton to challenge the Illinois senator more directly.

But she's gotten in her digs occasionally. Friday's came as she praised Rangel while implicitly criticizing Obama for being overeager.

"He serves as chair of the most important committee in the United States Congress," Clinton said of Rangel. "He didn't get there by leapfrogging. He got there by lots of hard work."

While Sen. Clinton courting black voters, Bill Clinton was pitching her candidacy to a crowd of about 200 people Friday in Spartanburg in the northern part of the state.

"The only people who think she's a polarizing figure are the people who don't know her. The reason I think she's the most electable Democrat has nothing to do with race or gender," he said, adding he believes his wife is the most electable because she has "a lot of scar tissue and knows how to handle it."

He went on to tout her work with Senate Republicans such as South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and Arizona's John McCain, who won this state's GOP primary.

"She and John McCain are very close. They always laugh that if they wind up being the nominees of their parties, it would be the most civilized election in American history and probably put the voters to sleep," Bill Clinton said.

Earlier Friday, Sen. Clinton said she must respond in kind to Obama's attacks even though she'd rather keep the campaign focused on their differences on public policy issues.

"I try not to attack first, but I have to defend myself - I do have to counterpunch," Clinton told NBC's "Today Show."

"I took a lot of incoming fire for many, many months and I was happy to absorb it because obviously, you know, I felt that was part of my responsibility. But toward the end of a campaign you have to set the record straight," she said.

Clinton, Obama and their campaigns have exchanged increasingly hard-hitting jabs over race, his relationship with a Chicago developer, her vote on the Iraq war, and other issues. Clinton stopped airing a South Carolina radio ad critical of Obama on Thursday and Obama took down his radio response in an attempt to cool the angry public spat.