RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton continue to find themselves in a skirmish over race. It started with a comment made by Clinton before last week's New Hampshire primary. She was describing the role of President Lyndon Johnson in getting a civil rights law passed, something championed so memorably by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
S: Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, presidents before had not even tried. But it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality. The power of that dream became real in people's lives because we had a president who said we're going to do it and actually got it accomplished.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Audie Cornish reports from Columbia, South Carolina.
AUDIE CORNISH: The back-and-forth controversy over race extended to NBC's "Meet The Press," where Hillary Clinton objected to any interpretation of her comments as criticizing Dr. King.
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S: Does he deserve the lion's share of the credit for moving our country and moving our political process? Yes, he does. But he also had partners who were in the political system. And I think it is such an unfair and unwarranted attempt to, you know, misinterpret and mischaracterize what I've said.
CORNISH: But it didn't end there. In a conference call with the media, Barack Obama called Clinton's initial remarks ill-advised, and John Edwards took his concerns directly to a sanctuary full of black parishioners at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina.
MONTAGNE: I must say, I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change that came not through the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King but through a Washington politician. I fundamentally disagree with that. Those who believe that real change starts with Washington politicians have been in Washington too long and are living in a fairy tale.
CORNISH: Edwards' line about a fairy tale was an indirect shot at an earlier Bill Clinton comment about Obama. While John Edwards is still fighting to win the nomination, he has clearly placed himself alongside Obama as a so-called agent of change in opposition to what he sees as the status quo candidacy of Hillary Clinton. He made that clear in yesterday's comments.
MONTAGNE: But as someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel an enormous amount of pride when I see the success that Senator Barack Obama is having in this campaign.
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MONTAGNE: And someday - and I'd be less than honest if I didn't say some days I wish he was having a little less success.
CORNISH: This time around he's thought to be not just in third place among voters overall but a distant third among black voters in particular. Even at Mt. Zion Missionary, where the senior pastor is a longtime friend and Edwards supporter, it's clear the former senator faces huge obstacles.
MONTAGNE: I'm considering Obama because I believe in his beliefs, and I'm leaning toward Hillary also. So it's - right now it's a toss-up between the two.
MONTAGNE: There's not much difference in the candidacy, but I think Obama is a lot more enthusiastic in what he says. Edwards has a message of change also, and that's why I'm between the two right now in who I'll vote for.
MONTAGNE: I'm just really not sure. It's just like if I could take a part of Senator Barack, a part of Senator Clinton, a part of Senator Edwards and put it together and be that perfect person - but that's not life.
CORNISH: Another voter, Joanne Taylor(ph), says she's especially intrigued with Obama after having watched him win over white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
MONTAGNE: Out in those states, it's more the other people than us, so if they leaning for him, then we might as well lean for him, too.
CORNISH: But nearly everyone in this unscientific sampling of voters said Edwards was their second choice, and that gives his campaign hope. The Edwards people brush off questions of whether he has the resources to make it past the next round of primaries and caucuses, and Edwards says no matter what happens in South Carolina, he insists it won't be his last hurrah.
MONTAGNE: The last hurrah is going to come when the election happens. And I am completely convinced that I will first be the Democratic nominee and that I will the general election.
CORNISH: Audie Cornish, NPR News, Columbia, South Carolina.
MONTAGNE: For an overview of what's at stake in the upcoming presidential primaries and the issues on voters' minds, go to npr.org/elections.
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