After two consecutive defeats, Barack Obama is under pressure to snatch a victory in South Carolina this week and restore badly needed momentum to his presidential campaign.
He should have it a little easier in South Carolina, where the electorate for the Democratic primary is overwhelmingly black. His campaign touches down in the capital Columbia today where there is traditional affection for Bill and Hillary Clinton. Mr Obama must now walk the fine line of appealing to African Americans to support the first viable black candidate for the White House, without making race a campaign issue and damaging his support in the rest of the country. Much of his success up to now has come from his ability to transcend race, appealing to white as well as black and other ethnic voters.
Things are different in the south. In South Carolina, between 30 per cent and 60 per cent of those voting Democrat may be black, and the same holds for Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, all of which vote on 5 February.
Voter registration by blacks jumped in many districts across the south following his victory in Iowa. But after two defeats, in New Hampshire and now Nevada, Mr Obama has only a week of electioneering ahead of him to maintain the 10 per cent lead he is showing in the local polls. On black radio talk shows, beauty salons and churches across the south, the talk has suddenly turned to politics, with debates raging back and forth over whether to go with old loyalties or ride the wave of youthful enthusiasm behind Obama.
The Clinton campaign hopes that black voters have already forgiven her for some intemperate words about Mr Obama's youthful drug use. It is also banking on black women turning out to support her for being a woman attempting to break the last glass ceiling in US political life.
Many black politicians now face a dilemma of continuing to support the Clinton campaign – as promised – or voting with their hearts. Mr Obama's defeat in Nevada makes this choice all the more agonising.
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