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Black and White in the South Carolina Race

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Barack Obama has opened up a lead in the polls ahead of Saturday's Democratic primary in South Carolina. While he has overwhelming support from African-American voters there, he's struggling to attract white voters.

Scott Huffmon, who is a political scientist at Winthrop University in South Carolina, said the explanation might seem obvious.

Dr. SCOTT HUFFMON (Winthrop University): You assume, oh, well, you know, a huge racial divide - you know, whites voting for white people, blacks voting for a black man. But it's really not necessarily like that.

MONTAGNE: Huffmon says South Carolina, like many southern states, has experienced a political shift in recent decade. White Democrats who leaned conservative have become Republicans. That means the whites who still call themselves Democrats are on average more liberal than African-Americans. They are traditional party Democrats, many low income and many fondly remembering the good economic times under Bill Clinton.

This is pretty much what NPR's David Greene found when he spent yesterday in predominantly white Greenwood County, South Carolina.

DAVID GREENE: The Dixie Drive-In, it's been an institution in Greenwood for decades. Scott McGreevy's family owns it. He is in the kitchen with rows of sizzling burger patties in front of him.

Mr. SCOTT McGREEVY (Dixie Drive-In Owner): We're famous for the Dixie Cheese half and half. It's a cheeseburger plate with half fries and half onion rings. It's made a lot of people fat in this town. It's a good fat.

GREENE: He's got regulars who come in and sit at the lunch counter every day, like Bobby Driver, an insurance broker. He's checking the front page of the local paper.

Mr. BOBBY DRIVER (Insurance Broker): The headline is Barack Obama says he is fired up and ready to go.

GREENE: The photo shows Obama in Greenwood the day before. But Bobby Driver says he's leaning towards voting for John Edwards.

Mr. DRIVER: I think he's a good guy. He's from my area. He grew up in the textile end of it. He worked hard. He doesn't like these big corporations which seem to be running the country. He may not get the nomination. It doesn't look good. But that's just - I'm just going to vote my conviction this time around.

GREENE: Another one of the Drive-In regulars is Curtis Wilson, 74 years old; spend his life driving a truck around the country.

Mr. CURTIS WILSON (Truck Driver): Not many roads I haven't been on.

GREENE: Now he is retired and he says he is driving towards one thing.

Mr. WILSON: Get Bush out of White House.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: Wilson will be voting Saturday.

Mr. WILSON: And it will be for Hillary.

GREENE: Now, what about some of the others like Barack Obama? Are you thinking about him?

Mr. WILSON: I'm not ready for him yet.

GREENE: Why is that?

Mr. WILSON: I don't know. I don't want to say something that make you think it's a racial issue. But it's not - I just don't believe we are ready for him yet.

GREENE: What do you like about Hillary?

Mr. WILSON: Because she is Bill's wife. And I love Bill.

GREENE: What do you like about Bill?

Mr. WILSON: Everything he'd done. Except maybe a few things inside closed doors.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: But other than that, I thought he made us a good president.

GREENE: It's the kind of summary of eight years in the White House that might make the Clintons wince, unless of course it's what gets them back there in 2008. Listen to people in Greenwood and you hear a lot of affection for the Dixie Drive-In, like this from Isabel Watson(ph).

Ms. ISABEL WATSON: A lot of people here met their husbands at the Dixie. I met mine at the Dixie - isn't that right, Barbara(ph)?

GREENE: Isabel Watson says she and her husband both like Barack Obama.

Ms. WATSON: He's been really good about, you know, talking about helping people. He - I think he worked in Chicago when - helping people that were losing jobs and that type of thing. Well, you know, I think he would have an idea, you know, of what happens to people.

GREENE: But what really motivates them is the issue of health insurance.

Ms. WATSON: Even as a first lady, I know she did not have anything official. But she was there, and I know she knew a lot that was going on. And she tried to do some things. Like all the first ladies take on something, you know, that they want to work with. And she was working with the health care. And I like that.

GREENE: This Saturday in South Carolina, and again in a score of states on February 5th, these are the memories Hillary Clinton is counting on to bring her victory.

David Greene, NPR News, Greenwood, South Carolina. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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