Obama takes aim at Clinton

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama greets supporters during a campaign event in McBryde Hall at Winthrop University on Wednesday.
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama greets supporters during a campaign event in McBryde Hall at Winthrop University on Wednesday.

In the span of about half an hour Wednesday, Barack Obama criticized chief rival Hillary Clinton, quoted Martin Luther King Jr., and implored his listeners to vote, even if for other candidates, in Saturday's S.C. Democratic primary.

But the most thunderous cheers during a wide-ranging talk at Winthrop University came when Obama, the U.S. senator from Illinois, got to the one thing that unites Democrats of all persuasions: "Whatever else happens," he said, "the name George W. Bush will not be on the ballot."

Obama's second trip to Rock Hill drew more than 800 supporters to McBryde Hall, where the candidate held a town hall meeting three days before a primary now considered a must-win for him.

Some of his sharpest words were directed at Clinton's record on trade, including her support for NAFTA. Obama accused the former first lady of waffling as voting day draws closer.

"You can't always tell what Senator Clinton's position on trade has been," he said. "Now that we're in a campaign and it's not all that popular, Senator Clinton has said we need a timeout on trade. Nobody knows when that timeout will end. Maybe after the election."

The Clinton campaign hit back later Wednesday, saying the same trade policies have been described on Clinton's Web site and in speeches for months.

"Mr. Obama seems to be getting frustrated," said Zac Wright, Clinton's S.C. spokesman. "Which is understandable when you've lost (two) straight primaries."

Can a black man win?

On a cold morning, supporters waited in the fog in a line that snaked through the center of Winthrop's campus. In the moments before Obama took the stage, many chanted his campaign's signature rallying cry, "Fired up, ready to go."

Save for a few jabs at Clinton, Obama delivered an upbeat message that touched on signature themes and bread-and-butter policy proposals.

After initially saying South Carolina voters would have almost as much influence as those in Iowa and New Hampshire, Obama corrected himself. He said their influence would be the same -- perhaps remembering that polls here show him with a sizable lead over Clinton and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

A memorable moment came during the Q&A portion, when a woman stood and told Obama that her 77-year-old father was undecided because he didn't know if a black man could win.

"What if Dr. King had looked at the Lincoln Memorial and said, 'Y'all go home. It's too hard,'" Obama replied. "Part of the task of leadership is breaking through barriers. And most of the barriers are inside of us. We tell ourselves we can't do something. I want to say, 'Yes, we can.'"

A busy truth squad

Speaking with reporters afterward in the lobby of Tillman Hall, Obama was asked about a so-called truth squad set up by his campaign to respond to accusations from opponents.

Among the anti-Obama storylines circulating through e-mails and fliers is that Obama is a Muslim who was sworn in on a Quran and who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

None are true, Obama said, mentioning that he has belonged to a Christian church in Chicago for 20 years and that he routinely leads the Senate in reciting the pledge. He was sworn in on a family Bible.

"We've got to make sure we're getting the information out," he said. "Stuff like that, it's important to get corrected early so that people don't go in with doubts."

Obama was asked by The Herald to describe which barriers he sees in South Carolina, where a Democrat hasn't won since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The candidate said South Carolina is much like the rest of the country in that people aren't accustomed to seeing a black candidate at this late stage, much less one who has relied on newcomers to fuel his campaign.

"We didn't have a lot of the institutional endorsements the Clintons had," he said. "What we've been able to do is tap into that enormous hunger. If we can keep that energy, I think we'll do very well."

A few moments later, Obama went into a room inside Tillman to sign a few books and magazines, then was to board his motorcade to drive to events in Sumter and Dillon.