Edwards campaign says S.C. native is undecided
COLUMBIA -- Presidential hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama will headline the NAACP's King Day rally at the Statehouse on Jan. 21, turning the annual celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. into a high-stakes political event just days before the S.C. primary.
After taking part in the rally, Clinton and Obama, both U.S. senators will travel to Myrtle Beach, where a nationally televised debate is scheduled.
Clinton and Obama are locked in a close struggle for the Democratic nomination with former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, of North Carolina, an S.C. native.
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All hopefuls invited
Lonnie Randolph, president of the NAACP in South Carolina, said all presidential hopefuls were invited.
So far, no Republican has accepted the invitation. Only one GOP campaign -- that of former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee -- has acknowledged receipt of the invitation, Randolph said.
Edwards' campaign said Wednesday it has not decided what he will do on King Day.
"We are still confirming our schedule for that day," said spokeswoman Teresa Wells. "Senator Edwards is honored that the NAACP has invited him to be a part of this significant occasion."
With the race so fluid in Iowa and New Hampshire, campaigns are reluctant to commit their candidate to an event that is still weeks away.
There also is the possibility some candidates could drop out of the race after tonight's Iowa caucuses and Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.
Still, Randolph said, he was disappointed by the lack of interest from Republican candidates.
"You'd have to ask why none of them even acknowledged the (invitation)," Randolph said. "Do they believe in inclusion?"
The King Day rally, first held in 2000, typically draws a large number of black residents to honor the memory of the slain civil rights leader.
Rob Godfrey, communications director of the S.C. Republican Party, said all questions about why GOP candidates would or would not take part would have to be answered by the individual campaigns.
Godfrey did note the rally is scheduled to be held two days after Republicans vote in the GOP's S.C. primary Jan. 19.
Most black voters nationally and in South Carolina cast their ballots for Democratic candidates. Black voters could account for as many as half of those casting ballots in the state's Democratic primary Jan. 26.
The King Day rally will focus on education, economic equality and job disparities. "These are still pressing and ongoing issues in South Carolina today," Randolph said.
Confederate flag an issue
Another focal point of the rally will be the Confederate flag, which flies on a pole next to the Confederate Soldier Monument on the Statehouse grounds. The flag was moved from the top of the Statehouse dome to the flagpole in 2000.
"That symbol symbolizes injustice," Randolph said. "We are not opposed to people flying it. But it is disrespectful of citizens for the government to continue to fly a symbol that endorses bigotry and white supremacy."
GOP and Democratic presidential candidates have varying positions on the flag.
All of the Democratic candidates support removing it from the Statehouse grounds. Most of the Republican candidates have said the flag is a state issue that should be left to local lawmakers to decide.
However, Republicans Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, and Fred Thompson, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee, drew fire from pro-flag S.C. groups for saying in a national debate that they disagree with displaying the flag on public property.