South Carolina Voters React to Skirmish over Race Race rears its ugly head in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. The issue and its rhetoric are resulting in bad feelings for the Clinton and Obama campaigns.
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South Carolina Voters React to Skirmish over Race

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South Carolina Voters React to Skirmish over Race

South Carolina Voters React to Skirmish over Race

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

One issue that was not supposed to divide the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination is race. But the rhetoric between the Clinton and Obama campaigns has resulted in bad feelings on both sides, related to race.

Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton tried to clarify her assessment of the role Martin Luther King Jr. played in getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed. Her campaign had another fire to put out after a prominent black supporter, BET founder Bob Johnson, seemed to raise Barack Obama's self-acknowledged drug use as a teenager. Voters in South Carolina, particularly black voters, are trying to make sense of it all.

NPR's Audie Cornish reports from Columbia, South Carolina.

AUDIE CORNISH: Until yesterday's steps toward a truce, Barack Obama and his allies have been making the case that the Clinton campaign has been injecting race into this election. And a random sampling of African-American voters in South Carolina seems to agree.

Anthony Stovall(ph) of Columbia gave me the censored version of what he says people are feeling.

Mr. ANTHONY STOVALL: That it's unprofessional, that they're upset; of course they didn't say upset. And that it is a darn shame that that sort of stuff has to still go on today. So that's the clean version.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: Stovall is digging into the lunch buffet at Mac's On Main, a popular soul food restaurant run by chef-slash-City Councilman Barry Walker. Walker's place is decorated with signed framed photos of blues greats like B.B. King and laminated maps of his council district. Walker is undecided but says he is unhappy with the direction he feels the Clinton campaign has taken.

Mr. BARRY WALKER (Owner, Mac's on Main): I think they're going for broke now, going for whatever they can do. Crying ain't going to help here. You know, she can cry all she wants. You know, black people have been crying for years. So what's going to help is addressing the issues that are affecting us.

CORNISH: Joseph Free of Columbia, who is dining at the restaurant, agrees.

Mr. JOSEPH FREE: They're doing - are getting into the part that I was hoping wouldn't happen, that they would just stick to issues and what they think they could do instead of start turning this thing into a race problem.

CORNISH: Those comments reflect a kind of collective disappointment within the black community, according to Todd Shaw, political science professor at the University of South Carolina.

Dr. TODD SHAW (University of South Carolina): I think African-American voters are wise in this sense, that they know there is more to come. And I think that is actually the fear.

CORNISH: Shaw says there is a particular frustration at the Clinton camp's tactic of having other blacks, such as BET founder Bob Johnson, go after Obama. And they're especially disappointed in the role President Bill Clinton is playing in this effort.

Dr. SHAW: Clinton is - that sense of him being the first black president. Well, now you have not the surrogate, but you have this prospect of the first black president. And so in effect they don't have that same mantle to speak to, and actually in some ways you might say for, the African-American community.

CORNISH: Those sentiments were echoed across town at the historically black Benedict College, where Kathryn Jones of Columbia and Brenda Walker of Irmo work. The women were split about what to make of Bill Clinton's critical comments of Obama.

Ms. KATHERINE JONES: Bill Clinton and - and he is the kind of straight shooter, I think, if anything he was probably trying to refer to what they call Obama's lack of experience. So you know, I won't hold it against him.

Ms. BRENDA WALKER: Well, see, I wasn't going to vote for Hillary anyway, but him as a former president, I had high regards for him, and I lost some points - he lost some points with me himself.

CORNISH: There is almost two weeks to go before South Carolina's Democratic primary, where more than half of the electorate is expected to be African-American. And so Hillary Clinton has a chance to repair relations with the black community. Her first opportunity comes tonight,when she'll join Obama as well as John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich in a debate in Las Vegas.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, Columbia.

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