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The Night before the Democratic Primary

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By Samantha Hayes in Columbia, South Carolina

Inside the offices for the South Carolina Democratic Party its remarkably quiet today; only a few people are working.  Joe Werner, the executive director, tells me why.

"We have staff out everywhere today and the phones won't stop ringing."

One of the things people are calling about is a Presidential Primary Stump Meeting tonight.  Joe hands me an invitation and says the word is out that Hillary Clinton has committed to the event and now a lot of people are interested in going.  And there will be hot dogs. Can't beat that on the night before the Democratic Primary!

There's another reason the chirping of phones goes on in the background of our conversation. The expression on Joe's face changes from excitement to disgust. "There's a nasty rumor going around about Hillary Clinton and people are calling to make sure we know about it. We tell callers we are aware of it."

Rumor control is a problem for candidates in both parties. I'm reminded of Republican John McCain, who lost in the state in 2000. He formed a "truth squad" before last weekend's GOP primary in case false accusations were spread.

Taking a more upbeat note, Joe says Democrats in the state are happy with their choices and feels many voters like both Clinton and Obama.

"What about Edwards?," I asked.

Werner stood up from his desk and walked over to a map of South Carolina and pointed to Seneca, where Edwards was born. It's in the northeast part of the state, not far from Clemson University.

"He has a lot of support up there. A lot of folks who worked in the mills and lost their jobs when the textile factories went overseas."  Werner says Edwards could do better than people think.

But if he doesn't, South Carolina could further shrink the number of candidates, though Edwards has said he's staying in the race until the Convention. Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Congressman who struggled in the polls, made his exit from the race official today.

And a glance around the office shows the toll the early voting states have taken on candidates who couldn't gain traction.

Campaign posters for Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd are stacked in the corners.

But the candidates who remain have energized the state's Democrats.

"It's the most exciting race we've ever had. We're expecting very large turnout, more than 2004."  Joe then pauses for a second before exclaiming, "I think it's the most exciting race we'll ever have. I mean, Oprah was here!"

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