US Democrat rivals vie for black votes in Deep South
DEMOCRATIC rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with former president Bill Clinton, took their high-voltage fight for the White House to a hallowed symbol of the United States' civil rights movement yesterday.
The trio of political stars descended on the small town of Selma, Alabama, for a series of events commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the 1965 civil rights march, a milestone in the drive to end racial segregation in America's South.
The early campaign collision between Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama, the top two contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, is another sign of the budding intensity of their rivalry.
Mr Obama, who hopes to become the first black president, had been scheduled to give the keynote address at the ceremonies for weeks. Mrs Clinton, refusing to cede any black support to Obama, decided to attend as well.
The two candidates gave nearly simultaneous speeches in Selma churches three blocks apart. They then walked with others across Edmund Pettis Bridge, where state troopers had attacked black marchers in a clash that drew national attention and helped lead to the passage of voting rights legislation.
The two senators linked arms with activists who 42 years ago were beaten by police during the peaceful demonstration.
"I'm here because somebody marched for our freedom," Mr Obama said.
"I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants."
Not to be outdone in the hunt for black votes, Mrs Clinton brought a secret weapon.
Three days before the march anniversary, her campaign announced that her husband, Bill, the former president, would accompany her and be inducted into Selma's Voting Rights Hall of Fame.
Mr Clinton is one of the most admired men in the black community, sometimes referred to as the first "black" president by influential black leaders.
Mrs Clinton said: "How can we rest while poverty and inequality continue to rise? We all know we have to finish the march. That is the call to our generation."
Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama both appeared outside Brown Chapel - where the 1965 march began - for a rally, but came from opposite sides of the podium and did not interact. Despite the intense rivalry the pair praised each other.
The contenders' showdown came as polls show Mr Obama slicing Mrs Clinton's national lead and gaining ground among black voters as they become more familiar with the freshman Illinois senator. Mrs Clinton, a New York senator, had enjoyed big leads over Mr Obama.
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