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Bostonians campaign for Obama in South Carolina

Talia Whyte

The droves of campaign volunteers that worked to help Barack Obama coast to a commanding victory in last Saturday’s South Carolina Democratic primary included a number of Boston boosters who, like many others around the country, find themselves enthused by the Illinois senator’s idealism and message of change.

More than 20 prominent local women traveled to Myrtle Beach, S.C., during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend to campaign on Obama’s behalf. The trip was organized by Carol Fulp, vice president of community relations at John Hancock Financial Services and a member of Obama for America’s New England steering committee, who said it was important for a group of women of different ages and races to show their support for the senator.

“I wanted to galvanize women to go down [to South Carolina] during Martin Luther King Day [weekend],” Fulp said. “There was a significance in showing that there are people of many racial backgrounds who support Barack’s ideas. It was truly an inspiring trip.”

It was also a successful one. Obama cruised to a big win, earning 55 percent of the vote, more than double New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s 27 percent. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards placed third with 18 percent.

The campaigners spent most of their time knocking on doors of identified independent voters to spread Obama’s message. In addition, the women attended a kick-off rally hosted by fellow Obama supporter Gov. Deval Patrick, an event hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Congressional Black Caucus’ Democratic debate.

The group also campaigned in several churches, including Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church, where trip participant and WBZ-TV Liz Walker was invited to preach during Sunday service.

“Obama had asked us to talk to churches,” Walker said. “It was a great opportunity. Many of the people we met were open to meeting and talking to us.”

Leading up to the South Carolina primaries, tensions rose between Obama and chief rival Clinton over the significance of race and gender in the campaign.

For an African American female like Walker, it can be difficult to come down on one side or the other.
“It is hard to get around this issue,” Walker said. “I think it is unfortunate that this issue of race and gender comes up. However, it is naïve to think that race and gender were not going to be issues in the election.”

Personally, Walker said, she feels that race is a larger barrier in her life than gender. But she and others who went on the trip said they support Obama not because he is black, but because they think he is the best candidate for the job.

Susan Lewis Solomont, also a trip participant and a senior philanthropic advisor for the Philanthropic Initiative, agreed. Lewis Solomont, who is white, said she was inspired by Obama’s charisma and intelligence.

“I think Obama transcends race and gender,” she said. “I felt proud and excited by what he wants to do for this country. It was so exciting to be down in South Carolina and be part of history.”

According to exit polling data, over 80 percent of black South Carolinians — who accounted for more than half of total turnout — cast ballots for Obama, as did nearly a quarter of white voters. However, Obama won majorities across nearly all demographic groups, including women, who made up about 60 percent of last Saturday’s voters and had been a strong base of support in Clinton’s wins in New Hampshire and Nevada.

Fulp said that there will be more canvassing by Obama supporters leading up to the Super Tuesday primary in Massachusetts on Feb. 5. Bennie Wiley, a trip participant and principal of the Wiley Group, hopes that Obama’s South Carolina win will propel him to the Democratic nomination.

“Obama is actually where this country needs to be,” Wiley said. “He has an ability to connect with people. I think he is so special to the world.”