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Are Black Voters Ready For Hillary Clinton?

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Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton speaks with Frederic Hunt, a minister at First Calvary Baptist Church, during a campaign stop Wednesday at The Main Street Bakery in Columbia, S.C.

Hillary Clinton will need black voters if she wants to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency next year. But African American voters were a major reason she lost the early nominating state of South Carolina to Barack Obama by nearly 30 points in 2008.

She's trying to make up for it this time around.

"I just came from Kiki's Chicken and Waffles, which I highly recommend, and I was meeting with a group of African American businesswomen, and they were tellin' me what they needed," Clinton said with a hint of Southern twang in her voice Wednesday during her first trip to South Carolina since announcing her candidacy earlier this year.

Clinton focused on women's issues — calling for policies to promote equal pay for equal work — particularly, she said, for minority women. Clinton recalled her childhood, helping her father with his small textile business.

And she looked back on a more sensitive moment.

"Some of you might remember we had a pretty vigorous campaign in 2008," she said to laughter. "I vaguely recall."

Chances are she recalls it a little better than vaguely. Clinton's disappointing loss to Obama in 2008 followed a heated campaign. It included attacks on Obama by her husband, Bill Clinton, that some Obama supporters felt went too far.

"Give me a break. This whole thing's the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," Bill Clinton said of Obama's candidacy back during that contentious primary race. Clinton argued he was talking about Obama's stance on the Iraq War, but black leaders took offense.

In 2008, 55 percent of Democratic primary voters in South Carolina were black. And they voted overwhelmingly for Obama. Obama won the primary in a surprise 55-to-27-percent landslide over Clinton. With black voters, the margin was even bigger — 78 percent to 19 percent.

Of course, Obama went on to win the presidency, as the first black president, and won record margins with black voters.

Hillary Clinton is trying to make her pitch to black voters that she quickly got on board Team Obama once the primary was over.

"Both President Obama and I worked really hard," she said Wednesday, "and he won and I lost, and I went to work to make sure he'd win."

If the largely African-American crowd was any indication, any bad feelings were in the past.

"You know it was Obama, but it's Hillary now," said Margaret Wilson of Greenwood, S.C. "I like her platform. And I like the things she did as Secretary of State. And I like the stamina she has. She is a strong woman."

Some black voters have been behind Hillary Clinton since the beginning, including Ramona Brown, a third-grade teacher from Columbia, who hosted a house party last weekend to drum up support for Clinton. She invited about a dozen women, mostly African-American teachers — many of whom had supported Obama eight years ago.

"I actually – this is a secret," she said, "but I actually supported her in 2008. ...She was my favorite and still is. ... It's not popular because of our sitting president. I do appreciate him — very happy I saw him win in my lifetime. But I've just always been a fan of her."

But one of her Brown's friends, Alexis Carwise, who teaches fifth grade, said she's still making up her mind about her primary. Carwise said she thinks Clinton will need to work hard to excite black voters the way that Obama did.

"I think the difference was his passion, his use of words, his ability to connect on a personal relationship with what people needed," Carwise said. "Whereas with Hillary Clinton ... that connection wasn't there. So at that point in time, people needed to feel something.

A few miles away, Sendra Salley sat in a hair salon in Columbia, waiting for her daughters' hair to be styled.

"People want to know that you actually care," Salley said. "If you care about us, our vote matters. Our lives matter."

Salley said she thinks Clinton stands a good chance of winning over black voters.

"I think we had a lot of people that wanted to see the first black president," Salley said, "but they were torn between a first woman president. And down here, the population is more black, and you don't have that opportunity but once in a lifetime. So I guess they were looking at it as, well, she can always win, but he won't ever get that opportunity again."

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