COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Democrats are heading to the polls today in a primary election with a lot on the line, in a state where African Americans are expected to make up about half of the Democratic primary voters.
A win in South Carolina is crucial for Barack Obama, who could use a victory after second place finishes to Hillary Clinton in contests in New Hampshire and Nevada. The Senator from Illinois, who is hoping to become America’s first African-American president, is expected to do well with black voters.
Obama talked about the race factor late last night at a rally in South Carolina.
"After we won Iowa, everybody was so excited. Everybody said 'oh look at this. You know, African American, he's winning in a state with almost no African Americans,' and everybody's excited, and young people came out. And I think people started thinking 'well you know this isn’t hard' – but you know what, the status quo does not give up that easily,” said Obama.
White voters make up the other half of the Democratic electorate and they are expected to mostly split their votes between Clinton and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
Edwards was born in South Carolina and won the state’s primary four years ago, when he was making his first bid for the White House. Edwards has been touting his native status and as camps Clinton and Obama have squabbled, Edwards has continued to talk about the issues and suggests he’s the only adult in the field.
Speaking to reporters this morning, Edwards said "I'm keeping moving no matter what, but I feel good about how things are moving right now here today. Uh, I feel there's a lot of energy behind my campaign."
The Clinton and Obama campaigns toned down the rhetoric the past two days, returning to the issues on concentrating their firepower on the Republicans rather than on each other.
“Anybody we nominate will be subjected to the full force and effect of the Republican Machine,” said Clinton. “I think they should be gracious and just say we have messed this thing up so much we are just gonna quit. And just say we shouldn’t be re-elected but I don’t think that is what they are gonna do.”
South Carolina’s important for another reason. With the candidates avoiding Tuesday’s Florida primary due to an intra party fight, South Carolina is the last big test for the Democrats before the coast to coast contests on Super Tuesday.
Turnout at one polling station in Columbia appears light so far this morning, but Democratic state party officials are predicting a record turnout by the end of the day. Democrats broke turnout records in the three contests held so far, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Voters we spoke with as they departed the polling station said the possibility of making history with Obama or Clinton was one of the motivating factors for them to give up free time on a weekend to cast a ballot.
- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser