By Deborah Charles
BENNETTSVILLE, S.C (Reuters) – Democratic presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John Edwards appealed for votes in South Carolina on Wednesday, while Hillary Clinton campaigned in the Northeast — taking heat for leaving the state before its nominating contest this weekend.
Edwards, a former senator from neighboring North Carolina, criticized the New York senator for not being in South Carolina so close to the Democratic primary election on Saturday, which he hopes will propel him out of third place in the Democratic nominating race.
â€œSenator Clinton was here on Monday night for the debate that we had in Myrtle Beach. But then right after the debate she flew out and sheâ€™s been gone and she wonâ€™t be back until, I donâ€™t know — later in the week or on primary day,â€ he told a crowded meeting hall in Bennettsville, near the North Carolina border.
â€œThe question is — if sheâ€™s not going to spend time here the week before the South Carolina primary, what do you think the chances are sheâ€™s going to come back after the primary?â€ he asked.
Clinton was in Philadelphia and neighboring New Jersey, one of more than 20 states that vote in the â€œSuper Tuesdayâ€ nominating contests on February 5 to pick Democratic and Republican candidates for the November election. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, stayed in South Carolina to campaign on her behalf.
Clinton has said her team was fighting a â€œvery vigorous campaignâ€ in the Southern state.
Obama, who would be the first black president, holds a double-digit lead on Clinton in South Carolina three days before the primary, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll.
He leads Clinton 43 percent to 25 percent in the rolling tracking poll, buoyed by support from blacks, with Edwards a distant third at 15 percent. The poll has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
The Illinois senator is counting on a good result in the state after losing to Clinton in New Hampshire and Nevada.
He urged supporters to come out to vote, warning good poll numbers would not mean anything if people stayed home on election day.
â€œPeople canâ€™t take it for granted. Folks are saying, â€˜Well Obama is leading in polls,â€™ but that happened in New Hampshire, where people got complacent,â€ he said on the Steve Harvey show, an African-American radio program.
â€œIf people turn out, then I think we will do well. We can do well, but we need momentum coming out of South Carolina.â€
Economy Focus in Florida
The Republican contenders were promoting their economic credentials in Florida before that stateâ€™s Republican contest next Tuesday. Shaky global markets in recent days have heightened fears of a U.S. recession.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has staked his candidacy largely on hopes of a good performance in the state, said: â€œI know there are people that are fearful. I know there are people that are worried about the market.â€
But he told a crowd in the southwest Florida city of Estero, which included many retirees, that the country had faced economic problems before and should cut taxes and ease regulation to fuel growth.
Rival John McCain, hoping to build on his recent win in South Carolina, said Florida needed to develop environmentally friendly â€œgreen technologiesâ€ and that lenders who caused the nationâ€™s mortgage crisis should be punished.
â€œWe are paying the price for violating one of the fundamental principals of economics, that is donâ€™t lend money who canâ€™t pay it back,â€ he said in Orlando.
â€œThose people that engaged in predatory lending for the purposes of making a quick buck have to be gone after.â€
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney emphasized his experience in the private sector while linking a strong economy to security issues.
â€œIf you want to have a strong military, youâ€™ve got to have a strong economy. If you want strong families, if you want kids to come out of their home and get great jobs, you need a strong economy. The base is the economy,â€ he said.
(Additional reporting by Jason Szep and Jane Sutton in Florida, John Whitesides in South Carolina; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney)
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters â€œTales from the Trail: 2008â€ online at http://blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)