Obama Cheers Diversity Of Supporters In First South Carolina Campaign Swing

Friday, February 16th 2007, 9:27 pm
By: News On 6

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Presidential hopeful Barack Obama told thousands of cheering supporters Friday night that seeing such a racially diverse crowd in the shadow of the South Carolina statehouse would have surprised people a generation ago.

``Twenty years ago, nobody would have believed this crowd right here in South Carolina,'' Obama, a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois who is black, said during his first campaign visit to South Carolina.

Blacks make up about half the Democratic primary voters in the state, which will hold the first presidential primary in the South in 2008. More than half of the 1,000 tickets the party distributed for the Obama event were picked up by blacks, a party official said.

Earlier this week, a state legislator who is black said that if Obama won the nomination for president, it would lead to losses for Democrats in Congress and governorships.

``Everybody's entitled to their opinion,'' Obama told the crowd. ``But I know this _ that when folks were saying we're going to march for our freedom, somebody said we can't do that.''

When others said blacks couldn't sit at lunch counters, blacks did that, said Obama, who ended his thought with the declaration, ``Yes, we can.'' The crowd then started chanting the line.

Obama was to visit Claflin University, a historically black college, on Saturday before returning to Washington for a vote scheduled on an Iraq war resolution. He said Friday night that significant numbers of troops should be coming home from the Middle East by March 31, 2008, because the U.S. effort is not working.

``If people don't want to get along, we can't force them militarily to get along,'' he said.

Obama's South Carolina campaign is just getting off the ground. His two staffers have no statewide campaign experience, and in fundraising he is far behind his chief rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, said Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen.

Clinton has already received endorsements from two key black leaders. ``I don't see him beating Mrs. Clinton among blacks here,'' Thigpen said.