COLUMBIA -- History hovers over Saturday's South Carolina Democratic presidential primary.
For the first time, the party could nominate a woman, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, or an African-American, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, as its standard-bearer.
The two candidates, along with S.C. native and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, have generated pulsating political energy at S.C. rallies and on Internet blogs.
Many black voters -- expected to cast about half the ballots in Saturday's S.C. Democratic primary -- have rallied to Obama. That support increased after Obama won the Iowa caucuses, showing he could win support from white voters.
Meanwhile, many female voters -- another mainstay of the Democratic Party, and expected to cast more than half of Saturday's votes -- are backing Clinton, who won New Hampshire's primary. They see Clinton as tough and tested, ready to lead, as Clinton says, "from Day One."
But just as Saturday will produce a winner, it also will produce losers, candidates whose chances of winning the nomination will take a hit. That could sour passionate supporters who find themselves called on to back someone other than their first choice.
Carol Fowler, chairwoman of the S.C. Democratic Party, said the primary has produced a sharply higher level of interest in politics.
"Unless there's a blizzard," she said last week, more than 300,000 voters are expected to cast ballots in Saturday's primary. Fewer than 185,000 voted in the Democratic primary in 2004.
Women and blacks are crucial parts of the Democratic Party's voting power. But Fowler said she's not worried about lingering resentments that voters in either group might have if their personal choice doesn't win.
"The Democrats I talk to who like Senator Clinton don't dislike Senator Obama," Fowler said. "The Democrats I talk to who like Senator Obama don't dislike Senator Clinton. The same is true for Senator Edwards. I don't think it's going to be a whole group that's disappointed."
While each of the candidates can claim their share of supporters among blacks and women, the recent dust-up between the Obama and Clinton camps over race frightened some in the party.
Both candidates have tried to calm those roiling waters, taking pains during last week's Nevada debate to praise each other and underscore their determination to wage a positive campaign the rest of the way.
In addition to threatening the unity of the party, the racial tiff temporarily drowned out Edwards at a time when he desperately needs a breakthrough win.
Edwards, a Seneca native, won the state's Democratic primary four years ago.
Then, Edwards' competitors largely conceded the state to its native son.
Not so this time.
Clinton and Obama quickly accepted an invitation from the S.C. NAACP to take part in Monday's King Day rally at the Statehouse and will be in Myrtle Beach Monday night for a nationally televised debate.
Edwards, who has been trekking the state as well, will be at the rally and debate, too.
Blease Graham, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina, said winning the Palmetto State could be an important step toward the nomination for Clinton or Obama.
But, for Edwards, there might not be a nomination if he fails to win Saturday.
"It certainly puts his back to the wall," Graham said, speculating about the impact of a poor finish by Edwards. "It's going to be awfully hard to explain away a loss in South Carolina."