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VOL. 123 | NO. 19 | Tuesday, January 29, 2008

With Clinton Back on Trail, McCain Visit Up Next

By Andy Meek

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STOP AND GO: Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in Memphis Sunday at Monumental Baptist Church. -- Photo By Andy Meek

When New York Sen. Hillary Clinton told her husband a day or so ago that she'd be making a campaign stop in Memphis this week, the former president and Arkansas governor said he was jealous about being unable to come along.

And when the Democratic presidential candidate added that she planned to attend the Sunday morning worship service at Monumental Baptist Church on South Parkway, Bill Clinton told her: "Oh, now I'm really jealous."

With her daughter, Chelsea, seated in the front row, Clinton shared that anecdote near the beginning of her address to the church's mostly black audience. Those remarks about her visit underscored what might well shape up to be a game-changing element of the 2008 presidential contest: the importance of both Memphis and Tennessee in choosing the country's next president.

Lots of visiting

Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of the frontrunners for the Republican nomination, will be in Memphis Saturday. Plans still are being finalized for the location and timing of his stop.

On the statewide level, the last few days have been filled with a flurry of campaign endorsements, public and private rallies and behind-the-scenes phone calls on behalf of candidates. Former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker, arguably one of the state's most prominent and legendary Republican celebrities, endorsed McCain publicly Saturday after previously backing former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.

GRASS ROOTS: Obama supporters Nika Jackson (foreground) and Shailen Bhatt keep busy in the East Memphis office of the campaign. -- Photo By Andy Meek

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has been courted by supporters of two Republican presidential hopefuls, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee's campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, who's a former Memphian, personally reached out to Ramsey with a phone call.

Scott Romney, the former governor's brother, was due to make three campaign appearances in Nashville Monday. The host list for those events included the name of Memphian Brad Martin, the former chairman and CEO of Saks Inc. Martin is a co-chair of Romney's Tennessee finance committee.

Spiritual refresher

Meanwhile, coming off her defeat in South Carolina's racially charged Democratic presidential primary Saturday, Clinton's choice of visiting Monumental Baptist Church while in Memphis might have carried symbolic overtones.

The church is led by Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles. He's the only person still alive who spent the last hour of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life with him at the Lorraine Motel, where King was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. The slain civil rights icon was due to visit Kyles' home that day for dinner.

Clinton, who taped a live interview for CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday morning from The Peabody Hotel, talked about meeting with local supporters earlier in the day, including Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton. Kyles referred to the photos that include the former first lady displayed on the wall in his church office.

"Memphis has a special place in America's history and America's consciousness," the former first lady told the congregation at Monumental Baptist. "And the people of this great city on this great river have felt time and time again what it means to stand for justice. It is such an honor for me to come and replenish my spirit here."

No Obama sightings yet

In other campaign efforts, supporters of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama - Clinton's main competitor for the Democratic presidential nomination - gathered Sunday morning at First Baptist Church on Broad Street to organize a canvassing and outreach effort.

While Clinton spoke at Monumental Baptist, a female Obama supporter carrying campaign signs and buttons found a seat toward the front of the auditorium and later handed out some of the paraphernalia to members of the audience who asked for various items.

As for a visit by the candidate himself, there were no Memphis appearances planned for Obama as of Sunday. But his supporters have been out in force in the city, tackling everything from the daily grind of running a campaign to organizing a concert on the candidate's behalf.

An event being billed as a "Barack The Vote Concert" will be held Friday at Midtown's Hi-Tone Café featuring a variety of local music acts.

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