Andrew Dys

Faithful ready to vote for Hillary

You know a candidate has big support and bigger momentum when:

It's Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. and the inevitable downtown Rock Hill train goes by nearby with a whistle that drowns out the speeches and still nobody leaves.

And the candidate isn't even there.

And all that is on tap on a Friday after work -- not a cold beer in sight -- is the opening of a regional headquarters.

And still more than 80 people show up.

Because the candidate is Hillary Clinton.

Her full name is Hillary Clinton but all anybody said Friday was Hillary because, with her, the first name is enough. These people Friday were the real faithful, the troops, who live and die Democratic Party politics. Bill Clinton as president was their guy. And for many, his wife Hillary is next.

The 26th of January is the South Carolina Democratic primary. And even in this Southern, conservative state, Clinton, the senator from New York, is the favorite in the Democratic polls. She leads the lone black candidate in a state where in 2004 about half the Democratic Party primary voters were black. She leads a candidate who was born in South Carolina and lives in North Carolina.

Hillary is by far the national leader in the polls, too, in spite of being slammed at every opportunity by candidates in the GOP and conservatives who claim her presidency would be a fiasco.

The guy who came to open the store Friday after doing the same in Charleston and Orangeburg and Florence, the guy hoping to stir the Democratic faithful into finding votes for Hillary, was Terry McAuliffe. He's the former chairman of the national Democratic Party and now national chairman of the Clinton presidential campaign. Doubtfully a household name to anybody who doesn't follow politics, but a player on the national political stage.

McAuliffe put the polling lead in South Carolina lower than some estimates -- "8-10-11" points he said -- and reminded the faithful that the first four presidential contests are key. Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are all early, before the Feb. 5 primaries in huge population states such as California and New York and many more where Clinton leads in polls.

Yet McAuliffe cautioned the faithful that Clinton is leading because of her experience and knowledge, and is not taking anything for granted even with polling leads in almost every state.

"We need to come out of South Carolina like a booster rocket," he said.

Marit Majeske, 21, a Winthrop University senior, said she came to this building on Oakland Avenue on a Friday afternoon when she could have been doing a hundred other things "because politics is my life."

Majeske said she is leaning toward Chris Dodd, another Democratic candidate far down the polling lists. But, "Hillary is great candidate," Majeske said. "The first woman president would be awesome."

And if Hillary came to Rock Hill, "that would show how much this area means to her in this state, and would make an impact for sure."

That is the question, really: Will Hillary come to Rock Hill? Rival Democrat Barack Obama, who also has a field office in Rock Hill, drew about 2,000 people to a Saturday night rally two weeks ago.

Clinton's state communications director, Zac Wright, didn't have a date for a visit but said, "She plans to be in Rock Hill during the course of the campaign."

Will she hold a rally or a town hall meeting? Will she draw as many as Obama? Will she bring her husband?

John Edwards says he's the Democrat who can win the White House. See more on 3B.