Sen. Barack Obama welcomed his competitors -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards -- to the podium at the statehouse in Columbia, applauding their "excellent leadership" and noting that "unity is the great need of this hour." For her part, Clinton called Obama "an extraordinary young African American man who has so much to contribute."
An earlier version of this article said that Democrats living outside the United States would, for the first time, be able to vote online in the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday contests in 22 states. To clarify, Democrats living outside the U.S. can vote in person at voting centers in more than 30 countries or by mail, fax or Internet between Feb. 5 and Feb. 12, and their votes will determine 14 of the 22 members in the Democrats Abroad's delegation to the Democratic National Convention. For more information, visit www.democratsabroad.org.
In a similar vein, former President Bill Clinton, upbraided by some in his party for unkind cuts, went on NBC's "Today Show" to offer praise for Obama, his wife's chief rival, calling him "a great speaker, a smart man, someone who loves our country." But the former president, who has also called Obama's claim to have opposed the war in Iraq early "a fairy tale," said both he and his wife expect a strong battle.
"This is going to be an election in which we are coming together through debate and disagreement and discord and even, you know, sharp elbows in Nevada, " he said in describing his wife's views.
Obama alluded to the tensions in his remarks at the King rally on the steps of the state Capitol. "Every day our politics fuels and exploits divisions across races and region, across gender and party," he said. "It's played out on television, it's sensationalized in the media, and it's crept into the presidential campaign in a way that serves to obscure the issues."
Republicans also went in for their share of jabs today. Sen. John McCain of Arizona responded to comments by actor Chuck Norris, who is stumping for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Norris, 67, said over the weekend that McCain, at 71, is too old to be president and that electing him would risk handing the White House to his vice president.
At a stop in South Florida today, McCain was asked about Norris' criticism and replied, "I'm afraid I may have to send my 95-year-old mother over and wash Chuck's mouth out with soap."
Fresh from his victory Saturday in South Carolina, McCain was mobbed by Floridians at his first stop, the Versailles Restaurant in Miami, where he tossed back a cortadito, a Cuban espresso drink, at the counter. Cindy and John McCain had difficulty making their way through the crowd; older men repeatedly grabbed McCain's face in their hands to embrace him.
"We come into Florida with some wind in our back and recognize that we've got some hard campaigning in the next eight days or so," he said. "I'm confident that we can win here in this important state that represents so much of America, and our base begins here in Miami with the Cuban American community."
Democrats are preparing for a debate tonight in Myrtle Beach, S.C., co-sponsored by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. With African Americans representing about half the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, the debate is expected to focus on issues of concern to the black community.
Republicans, meanwhile, descended on Florida, which holds its primary Jan. 29. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has staked his presidential campaign on a win there and has been campaigning in the state for months, with the field virtually to himself. Today he had company, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pledging to dedicate most of the next 10 days to the Sunshine State and McCain reopening offices in Florida he was forced to close last fall during his campaign's fiscal crisis.
Also today, expatriates living abroad started voting in their states' primaries from afar. Democrats living outside the U.S. can vote in person at voting centers in more than 30 countries or by mail, fax or -- for the first time -- the Internet between Feb. 5 and Feb. 12, and their votes will determine 14 of the 22 members in the Democrats Abroad's delegation to the Democratic National Convention. More information about voting from abroad is available at www.democratsabroad.org, www.republicansabroad.org and www.overseasvotefoundation.org.