COLUMBIA, S.C. – Favorite son John Edwards carried South Carolina and John Kerry captured five other states in the Feb. 3 Democratic primaries. Gen. Wesley Clark eked out a narrow win in Oklahoma. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut dropped out. But regardless of the state, voters sent a loud, clear message that Bush must go Nov. 2.

Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts, has emerged as the frontrunner, winning Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico and North Dakota, following wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The turnout here broke all records. These were the first primaries in the South, which Bush regards as the base of his “Southern strategy.” They were the first primaries where Black and Latino voting blocs were crucial.

Edwards, born in Seneca, S.C., son of a textile worker, received 45 percent of the vote while Kerry won 30.2 percent and Rev. Al Sharpton 9.6 percent. A softspoken trial lawyer who has won multi-million dollar damage lawsuits against corporate giants, Edwards hammered Bush for destroying millions of jobs to enrich the elite few. He also captured the largest share of Black voters, stressing his hardscrabble upbringing and his record of opposing racism in North Carolina.

Donna DeWitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, told the World, “Trade is a huge issue here. We’ve had so many plant closings, such heavy job losses. Unemployment is double-digit in many rural counties.”

She added, “The war is also important. South Carolina is like the rest of the country in reflecting those issues. We have Kerry on record saying he will oppose the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas). We will hold him to that.”

DeWitt praised the televised debates. “Basic issues have been discussed that never would have been brought out otherwise. Rev. Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich have done a good job in bringing those issues forward. These early primaries have really energized the Democratic base.”

Southern white voters, DeWitt said, can be won to the anti-Bush cause. “Many people who voted for Bush are stopping to take another look,” she said. “Small business people are struggling to survive. Powell is now saying there were no weapons of mass destruction. This could blow up for Bush. You’ve got to have a coalition that fights for something that benefits every member of the coalition.”

South Carolina, the Palmetto State, is one of two states in which the party must pay the costs of a primary election. The Democratic Party raised $500,000 and recruited thousands of volunteers to staff 1,956 polling places across the state. A record 300,000 voters cast ballots, more than double the turnout in the last Democratic primary in 1992.

Only 18 percent of the African American voters here cast their ballots for Sharpton, the only remaining Black candidate in the race. Lee Bandy, a political commentator for the Columbia daily newspaper, The State, commented that Black voters “were as focused as anybody else on finding a candidate who can defeat Bush. Race seems not to have been a factor in their choices.”

That mood was much in evidence on the streets of this picturesque Deep South city. At Benedict College, a predominantly African American liberal arts college, students unanimously voiced outrage at Bush-Cheney policies. “Bush started that war and it wasn’t necessary,” said freshman Burton Thompson, who plans to vote for the first time next November. “There are peaceful ways to resolve issues. I’m going to vote to get Bush out,” he said.

Cheyanna Henry, hurrying to get to her polling station, stopped to tell the World, “Bush is taking our country to hell in a handbasket. We don’t have a say in anything, whether it’s education or health care. He invaded a country that didn’t attack us. He took over a country that wasn’t ours to take over.”

Across town on Gervais Street, in the shadow of the State Capitol building, a crowd gathered outside Kerry headquarters. Former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee Vietnam War veteran, was sitting in a car surrounded by admirers. Driven from office in 2002 by venomous Republican attack ads, Cleland is now spearheading the “Band of Brothers,” a grassroots veterans’ movement to elect Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran and a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

“The White House trashed me,” Cleland told the World as autograph seekers crowded around the car. “That’s going to be their slime and defend strategy from now until Nov. 2. They trashed John McCain right here in South Carolina. They trashed me in Georgia and they are going to try to trash John Kerry.” All three are decorated Vietnam War vets. The issue of Bush’s AWOL status during the Vietnam War, which has earned him the sobriquet, “chickenhawk,” is looming again as hundreds of U.S. soldiers are killed and thousands wounded in Iraq.

Cleland said veterans from 29 states have turned out for Kerry. “George W. Bush took us into a shooting war and now he’s eliminating seven Veterans Administration hospitals. He’s telling 300,000 veterans, ‘Don’t call the VA because we don’t have any money.’ That’s a raw deal. It’s time for him to go.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.

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