Hillary Clinton might not win South Carolina, but the former First Lady made one thing clear on the eve of today's primary: Her chances will rest with middle class, middle income voters who have always served as a pillar of the Democratic Party.
During her first visit to Rock Hill on Friday afternoon, Clinton gave a sympathetic nod to families worried over the growing burdens of health care, college tuition and home mortgages.
"We've been working harder and harder, but everything's more expensive," she said. "People feel like they're not getting ahead. The bottom line is, we've got to get this economy working for everybody."
Clinton arrived 45 minutes late, explaining that she stopped for lunch at Doc's BBQ in Columbia on her way to town. Once here, she was greeted by a mostly blue-collar audience, including many elderly people, who seemed an entirely different brand of Democrats than those at Barack Obama's visit two days earlier.
The focus of Clinton's stump speech reflected her husband's trademark belief about what voters care most about: "It's the economy, stupid." Former President Clinton spoke from the same stage in November.
"We could probably stand here until the cows come home telling stories about people who lost their health plans," she said Friday.
No mention of Obama
Clinton did not make any mention of chief rival Obama, who holds a sizable lead in many S.C. polls. Instead, she worked her way through bread-and-butter Democratic priorities, calling for an end to tax breaks for the wealthy, more tuition aid to help students pay for college and lower drug prices under a plan for universal health care.
"Some of the stuff that's happened in the last seven years, you can't make up," she said during a critique of President Bush. "When the vice president shot somebody in the face, I thought that was the end."
The event ended abruptly when an elderly man collapsed near the back of the room. A commotion ensued as people rushed to his aid. Recognizing what was happening, Clinton passed down a bottle of water and told listeners that she would greet them offstage. The man looked to be OK as paramedics wheeled him out on a stretcher.
Not making predictions
Speaking with reporters after the crowd left, Clinton avoided making any predictions about today's S.C. primary. "We're in a very close contest," she said. "Obviously, each of us bring strengths to this campaign. ... I have no idea what's going to happen."
Clinton broke into a smile when a New York Times reporter asked if she felt sorry for Rudy Giuliani, who has yet to place well in the early Republican contests. "You're so bad," she told her questioner in a playful tone.
"He's worked very hard in this campaign," she said, turning serious. "Anybody who puts themselves in this arena deserves our respect. This is not easy."
Clinton took the stage Friday with Herb Crump, pastor of Freedom Temple Ministries, and U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., who has carefully avoided making an endorsement in the Democratic race. Spratt stuck to that policy, introducing Clinton simply as a "more than viable contender for the presidency of the United States."
He did add one encouraging plug for Clinton: "Senator Clinton, you can go back and tell Bill that you drew a bigger crowd than he did."