S.C. Primary to Test Place of Race in Politics

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have recently started to insert the issue of race into their presidential campaigns. The South Carolina primary, with 60 percent black voters, will be a test of whether their strategies paid off.

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DANIEL SCHORR: As the issue of race hovers over the Democratic primary campaign, the Martin Luther King holiday takes us back in history.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: One time Kennedy aide Peter Edelman speaking in a Washington, D.C. synagogue said that President Kennedy could not have gotten civil rights passed over Southern opposition - it took a movement, he said. One time, aide to President Johnson, Bill Moyers, told a story on public television that I had never heard before. Johnson once told Dr. King, I want you to go on doing what you're doing, including civil disobedience, and make it possible for me to do the right thing. I cite these remarks because Hillary Rodham Clinton has gotten into trouble for saying that King's dream became a reality only after the president said, we are going to do it.

The controversy points of the growing tension over race issues as the campaign moves into states with sizable numbers of African-American voters, where opinion polls give Barack Obama a significant lead. Obama delivered a speech in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta yesterday that resounded with a cadence of a civil rights preacher. Senator Clinton countered with a speech in a Baptist church in Harlem. I felt, lately, Obama base his campaign on the unity theme transcending race. That's changing.

Speaking from Dr. King's pulpit, Obama delivered a King-like appeal for unity as an end to segregation. He appealed to Americans to look past what divides us. His audience responded by chanting amen and singing "We Shall Overcome," like old days. There is no doubt about the effectiveness of donning the civil rights mantle with black voters. A Washington Post-ABC poll indicates that Obama is now weighing 60 percent of the black vote nationally. The issue becomes immediately important because of the Democratic primary next Saturday in South Carolina, with 60 percent African-American voters.

What remains to be seen is whether Obama's new civil rights stance will cost him with other constituencies. This is Daniel Schorr.

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