By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Edwards’ trademark “Two Americas” speech appealed to blacks, to white progressives and to working-class voters who felt very much part of the “other” America of which Edwards speaks. South Carolina has lost some 58,000 manufacturing jobs over the last three years, per federal statistics.
“This campaign is something I feel very passionate about — I’m a working man,” said Mike Evatt, a white supporter who warmed up the crowd before Monday night’s rally in Seneca in the western foothills. “I work over at one of the manufacturing plants. We’re worried about our jobs. We’re worried about our health care. And this is something that I take personal.”
Of course, no need to tell African-Americans about Two Americas in a state where the Confederate flag flies at the state house, where interracial dating was banned at Bob Jones University in Greenville, and where the radio jockeys’ preoccupation this week was glorifying Bush’s Vietnam-era stateside service in the National Guard. South Carolina blacks have known about separate and unequal for the better part of 300 years, certainly when it came to voting rights. And though Jesse Jackson, a Greenville native, won two Democratic presidential primaries here, the state has been assuredly Republican in the presidential column for more than 20 years, faster than you can say Jefferson Davis.
Black voters knew that Tuesday could be their main opportunity to influence events, which to many meant turning from Sharpton, the only African-American in the field. Sharpton still claimed success, noting that he’d outdrawn big names in the field, including former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, with a grassroots, no-TV effort that went from church to church. Overall, exit polls indicated that black voters narrowly favored Edwards over Kerry, with General Clark apparently dropping like a stone despite a massive air war on TV and radio, and a natural appeal to older black voters and the state’s huge veterans’ contingent. Kerry also made a late and effective play for the veterans, sending down a seeming regiment of admiring military buddies. Clark’s radio ads, in turn, openly branded the 2000 election as stolen by George Bush, much as Sharpton has. But voters used that logic as a reason to tilt toward Edwards and Kerry.
College professor George Yeldell, an African-American, was one who second-guessed his Clark leanings. “What really kind of got me interested in Clark was that President Clinton said, ‘This is a man we should watch,’” said Yeldell, who heads the education department at Columbia-based Allen University. “I think that’s kind of strong coming from Bill Clinton.” But Yeldell came out impressed from a Monday Edwards rally: “I kind of like what I see. The most important thing is that he be able to beat Bush.” And was that more important than all other considerations? “Bigtime,” he said, adding that he’d have to give Kerry more consideration, too.
Kerry’s rise was impressive, coming from a 1 percent standing in the polls before his win in Iowa. Back then, he trailed even Carol Moseley Braun, who dropped out before Iowa. Kerry volunteers flooded the South after New Hampshire, initially slowed by an ice storm that brought commerce to a standstill for most of last week.
At the crowded,cavernous Bible Way Church, where Edwards spoke Sunday, Kerry and Sharpton supporters papered hundreds of cars in parking lots that stretched across acres. But Edwards had blunted their pull among the church’s black congregants.
“I’ll tell you the truth,” said 26-year-old barber Adrian Hammond. “Al Sharpton — he is the man. But unfortunately his skin color has a lot to do with the polling. If you put what Sharpton had to say in Edwards’ body, he’d be the best person to ever hit this thing.”
Teacher Kenneth Stokes, 25, standing nearby, was not so sure. “Al Sharpton has been one of those so-called leaders,” said Stokes, “and he hasn’t done anything, to me, to show that he’s a Martin Luther King type.”
Kersten Ellison, 15, was even less sympathetic. “You could say the milk was fresh and Reverend Al Sharpton would try to turn it racial.”
Her mother, Pat Ellison, said Edwards’ arrival on the scene had sealed her decision: “I had been kind of teeter-tottering back and forth between Edwards and Dean.” Ellison embodies an evolved South Carolina. She’s a single mother and beautician whose business partners are white, as are most of her customers. Daughter Kersten dates a white classmate. While Kersten dislikes some comments and looks she gets, she still does what she wants.
It’s an imperfect but huge stride from the South Carolina recalled so vividly by Ellen, a white Seneca retiree who did not want her real name used. She recalled when mixed-race couples could be killed, and how she feared for her safety merely for driving around with her boss, a black man who administered an affirmative-action program at a local college. The black administrator once pretended to be her driver, to get her out of a scrape with two threatening white women. Ellen clearly adored the memory of her black colleague, and she likes Edwards’ inclusive message and his focus on jobs — her late husband had been part of the now-battered textile industry.
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