By Mike Dorning
COLUMBIA, S.C.—Laura Williams, a 54-year-old with gray-flecked hair, woke up at 3:30 am this morning from the anticipation and arrived with not one but two cameras to record Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey's sole rally in South Carolina.
"It's going to make history," said Williams, a disabled hospital worker from just across the border in Grovetown, Ga., who said she could now see the possibility of a black man elected to the White House and hoped to share the photos of the moment with her children and grandchildren when they reached her age.
A largely African-American crowd began lining up before 6 a.m. this morning for the 2:30 pm rally, with many of the participants saying the talk show host was as much a draw as the presidential candidate. Several, like Williams, said Winfrey's support had helped them sort through conflicting opinions about which candidate to back in favor of Obama and others said her strong endorsement had solidified their own feelings that Obama was the right choice.
The hip-hop band Arrested Development roused the waiting crowd on a beautiful, sunny 70-plus degree day as a McClatchy-MSNBC poll released Sunday showed the Democratic race tightening to a statistical dead heat in South Carolina, with Clinton at 28 percent versus Obama at 25 percent support among likely Democratic primary voters.
The new South Carolina poll also showed African-Americans, who comprised half the electorate in the state's last Democratic primary, swinging decisively to Obama, with the Illinois senator holding a 37-21 lead. Early polls had shown black Democrats in the state conflicted between Clinton and Obama.
Among those who have recently come over to Obama is Williams and Queenie Glover, 62, a nurse from Aiken, S.C. Both cited Winfrey's endorsement.
"She has not let anyone down yet. The doubt is gone," said Glover, who said she had been inclined toward Clinton until four days ago when she heard of Winfrey's unhedged endorsement.
Though Glover said she rarely watches Oprah because the show airs while she is at work, she added, "Her reputation, her track record precedes her. I don't think she's going to step out on a doubt."
"Oprah just turned me all the way around," Glover continued. "You can have all the political strategists, the news media. But Oprah's not going to sugar-coat anything. She's going to give you the straight facts."
Billie Freitus, 30, an Army wife and full-time mother of four from East Columbia, said she had long supported Obama because of his opposition to the war in Iraq.
But she said that she made a special effort to attend the rally because of Winfrey.
"When they said Oprah was going to be here, I said I'm coming," Freitus said. "I think she's a great person and a role model for the women of the United States. I trust her 100 percent."
"She's changed the world in so many different ways—the school in Africa, helping low-income families, battered women," added Freitus, who said she watches the show every day and has purchased several of the books Winfrey has recommended.
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said the South Carolina had recruited 2,307 volunteers from people who had requested free tickets to the event.
The rally had originally been scheduled for a convention hall with a capacity of 18,000 but was later moved to the University of South Carolina football stadium. Organizers said more than 29,000 people attended the rally.