Obama, Clinton Vie for Black Support in S.C.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Senator Hillary Clinton is making her first presidential campaign swing through South Carolina. And this morning she made a campaign stop that has become part of the program for Democrats hoping to do well in that state: she spoke at a small historically black college.
As NPR's Adam Hochberg reports, Clinton is not the first nor the last politician to talk to African-American students.
ADAM HOCHBERG: Already this campaign season Hillary Clinton is the third Democratic presidential candidate to visit one of South Carolina's predominantly black colleges. Just this past Saturday, Senator Barack Obama appeared at Claflin University. In September, Senator Chris Dodd visited Benedict College. And today Clinton spoke at Allen University, a 137-year-old school that's a pillar of Columbia's black community.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): What happens right here at this university, this is what we must emphasize. But it's become harder, hasn't it? It is now more expensive to go to college than it was when I was going to college. We're not giving people enough aid. We're not investing in the future the way we used to.
HOCHBERG: Clinton's forum in Allen's Gym was her first public campaign stop in South Carolina, a state where African-Americans make up about half the likely Democratic primary vote. And for students here, it conveyed an important symbolic message.
Sophomore biology major Jeffrey Wilson(ph) was among about 3000 people who attended Clinton's event.
Mr. JEFFREY WILSON (Sophomore, Allen University): She cares about, you know, minorities as well as everything else. As far as she's concerned, everybody's her people. She comes to speak, shakes hands. (Unintelligible) Allen is a private institution, kind of a small school and she kind of sent students into a frenzy, everybody calling their moms like, Hillary's coming to school! Hillary's coming to the school!
HOCHBERG: Still, even after hearing Clinton speak, Wilson hasn't decided for sure whether to vote for her. Indeed, while Clinton has been endorsed by several South Carolina black leaders who fondly remember her husband and his record on minority issues, analysts say she'll have to work hard for the young vote.
Todd Shaw teaches politics and African-American studies at the University of South Carolina. He says many of his students relate to Obama more.
Mr. TODD SHAW (African-American Studies, University of South Carolina): Here is someone who's 45 years of age who, like them, wouldn't have been at Selma, Alabama or wouldn't have marched with Dr. King in Chicago, but likewise has sort of those elements that the younger generation might find appealing in his newness and the ways in which he really is of their generation in some regard.
(Soundbite of song, "Respect")
Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): Think. Let your mind go. Let yourself be free.
HOCHBERG: When Obama campaigned in South Carolina this weekend, students were especially well represented at his events, including this town hall forum at Claflin University in Orangeburg. Before a largely black audience, Obama spoke of the value of education and called on parents to set higher standards for their children.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): You know, I support more money in the schools, but more money won't do a dime's bit of difference if, when your child comes home from school, you don't turn off the television set, and if we as a community as a whole don't get over some of this anti-intellectualism that we see in our community sometimes. Where folks are teasing each other: Why are you carrying a book? Why are you speaking proper English?
There's nothing wrong with that.
HOCHBERG: For both of Obama's weekend appearances, campaign volunteers handed out tickets on college campuses. And the Illinois senator has embraced another way to reach students: he's using MySpace and Facebook, the social networking Web sites popular among young people. More than a quarter million have joined Facebook groups to chat about Obama's candidacy, far more than for any other candidate. And Claflin student Sheena Johnson says that's helped Obama win campus support.
Ms. SHEENA JOHNSON (Student, Claflin University): I think it's great he's trying to not only get in touch with older people of America. He's also trying to get in touch with the young people of America and get his message involved that our vote also makes a difference.
HOCHBERG: So you've gone to his page and you've seen it? Are other people doing that?
Ms. JOHNSON: Yes, everyone's doing it.
HOCHBERG: In the 2004 election, voter turnout surged among college-aged African Americans nationwide. A University of Maryland study found about half of them voted, up more than 10 percent from four years before, putting them almost on par with their white counterparts, a trend that suggests candidates will continue to be frequent visitors at black colleges between now and next year's primaries.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News. Columbia, South Carolina.
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