NPR logo What's at Stake in the S.C. Democratic Primary?

Election 2008

What's at Stake in the S.C. Democratic Primary?

Supporters listen as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally in Orangeburg, S.C., on Tuesday. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards sings "Amazing Grace," during a campaign event at in Bennettsville, S.C., on Wednesday. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

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Win McNamee/Getty Images

Did You Know?

  • South Carolina presidential primaries are conducted and paid for by the state's two political parties, not by state government, so they can choose to hold the contests on different days.
  • The South Carolina Democratic Party was not always so closely aligned with the African-American community. Through the mid-1940s, African-Americans identified more with the Republicans — especially since the South Carolina Democrats excluded African-Americans from its primaries until the Supreme Court decision of Smith v. Alright ruled that practice unconstitutional.

Former President Bill Clinton campaigns for his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, at West End Community Development Center in Greenville, S.C., on Tuesday. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

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Win McNamee/Getty Images

Roughly 50 percent of registered Democrats in South Carolina are African American, with the majority of undecided voters being African-American women. Saturday's Democratic primary there will be the presidential candidates' first big test among this voting bloc.

It's unclear which Democratic front-runner will come out ahead: the first serious African-American presidential candidate, or a female senator with a family name that has always been popular among Southern blacks.

Here's a guide to what's at stake for the candidates in the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday and the issues that will be on voters' minds.

Candidates: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton; former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards; former Arkansas Sen. Mike Gravel; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich; Illinois Sen. Barack Obama

What's at Stake: Clinton won the last two early voting contests — in New Hampshire on Jan. 8 and Nevada on Jan. 19 — but in the latter state, she earned only 20 percent of the African-American vote. While she does have campaign stops scheduled in South Carolina this week, she is also spending time in California and New York, both of which are delegate-rich Super Tuesday states.

Obama has been leading in South Carolina polls, and he has also shown that he can transcend race to earn votes in predominantly white states, such as Iowa, where he won the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses, and New Hampshire, where he finished a close second behind Clinton. Several African-Americans voters have told NPR that this makes him seem more electable.

Edwards won the South Carolina primary in 2004. This year, he has had a hard time capturing the spotlight, particularly during Monday's Democratic debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., during which Clinton and Obama consistently traded barbs.

Issues: The economy is a major issue here; unemployment in the state stands at 6.6 percent, the third highest in the nation. The Northwest corridor of the state is home to some of the country's most successful high-tech manufacturers, including automaker BMW and several German companies, but other parts of South Carolina have been hemorrhaging textile factory jobs for years. The Iraq war remains a huge issue, along with health care.