Clinton picks up emotional endorsements in S.C.
Associated Press Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) ” 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.”
“Sen. 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.”
Earlier Friday, 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,” the New York senator 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.
NBC also aired an undated photo of Sen. Clinton and her husband posing with real estate developer and fast-food magnate Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who faces trial next month on federal corruption charges. During a Democratic debate Monday, Sen. Clinton referred to Rezko as a slumlord from whom Obama has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over the course of his career.
“I don’t know the man, I wouldn’t know him if he walked in the door. I don’t have a 17-year relationship with him,” Clinton said Friday. “There is a big difference between standing somewhere taking a picture with someone you don’t know, haven’t seen since, and having a relationship.”
Clinton was asked about possible backlash against Bill Clinton, who has repeatedly criticized Obama’s campaign.
“Everybody needs to take a deep breath,” Sen. Clinton told CBS’ “Early Show.” She said her husband “gets excited, gets really passionate about making the case for me.”
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