Clinton's visit latest political domino to fall in Rock Hill

Former President Bill Clinton's whistle stop for wife Hillary today makes the seventh major presidential campaign visit for York County recently, and John Edwards is on his way Friday.

"We've never had anything like this before," veteran Winthrop University political science professor Melford Wilson said Sunday.

The Freedom Center, which invited an array of candidates to speak, will host Clinton's visit this afternoon. Even they are dazzled by the response. Center Director Willie Lyles III received a call last week asking if the Clinton campaign could send a surrogate.

"I thought they'd send somebody from Hollywood or a congressman," Lyles said. "I never thought we'd get the 42nd president of the United States."

As security and logistical preparations mounted Sunday, some local politicos theorized on the question, "Why Rock Hill?"

Wilson points out South Carolina's Jan. 29 primary comes close on the heels of the New Hampshire and Iowa primaries.

"This is the first significant-sized state, and it gives you a whole different demographic," he said. "We are the South. Also, South Carolina is sort of a swing area. We have both Republicans and Democrats elected here, and people think they might be able to pick up some votes here."

York County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Watkins also cited the domino effect of political campaigns.

"Once one candidate comes to an area, others follow," he said. "Once Obama was here, could Hillary be far behind?"

Watkins also describes the area as "a slice of Americana," with rural heritage, but close to a large city and with a strong minority community.

He is heartened that so many local people have become involved in the public policy process this campaign.

"We've had a lot of people who have seen they can become engaged in this," Watkins said. "It's helped folks catch a glimmer that everybody is an important part of the process."

He dismisses the perception of South Carolina's legacy of throwing its electoral votes to Republican presidential candidates, especially in this election.

"What I hear is that people are running as far away from George Bush as they possibly can," he said. "It's made a lot of Republicans unpopular. Who knows what's going to happen this next general election?"