Record turnouts are expected in today’s South Carolina Democratic primary as Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards fight to pull out a victory in the state, in what is seen as a crucial contest.

All three candidates canvassed the state today in a last minute effort to drum up support.

Democratic party officials predicted a record turnout for voters in the South Carolina primary, with expectations of as many as 350,000 people casting their votes today, according to the New York Times.

Early turnout has been strong and steady so far today, a spokesman for the state election commission said, according to CNN.

Illinois Senator Mr Obama led rival New York Senator Mrs Clinton 41 percent to 26 percent, a spread of 15 points, heading into the South Carolina primary, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released Saturday morning.

Former North Carolina Senator, Mr Edwards trailed in third place with 19 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percent.

Mr Obama has maintained a measurable lead against Mrs Clinton in four days of polling in South Carolina leading up to the primary, according to the Washington Post.

A significant factor in his favour is the predicted strong turnout of black voters, who support Mr Obama by 62 percent versus 18 percent for Mrs Clinton and 5 percent for Mr Edwards.

Mr Obama spent Saturday morning visiting a black Baptist church in Columbia and rallying supporters at the historically black Benedict College, according to the Associated Press.

Mrs Clinton and her daughter Chelsea dropped into a Shoney’s restaurant in Columbia, chatting with customers before having breakfast with black California Representative Laura Richardson.

Mr Edwards stopped by a cafe in Mount Pleasant, SC and then signed autographs at a polling station later in the morning.

Mr Edwards, who was born in the state, previously won the South Carolina Democratic primary in 2004, but has not been competitive with Mrs Clinton or Mr Obama in the 2008 Presidential race so far.

Though Mr Edwards is not expected to take first or second place in today’s contest, support for the ‘native son’ could draw away votes from Mr Obama or Mrs Clinton.

The South Carolina primary is considered a key state for Mr Obama, who lost both the Nevada Caucus and the Michigan primary to Mrs Clinton.

Black voters could prove to be the deciding factor in the race with the loyalty of white voters turn primarily between Mrs Clinton and Mr Edwards, according to a McClatchy-MSNBC poll conducted January 22-23.

For Mrs Clinton, South Carolina would be a significant win, proving she can win in a state with strong African-American support and a diverse demographic.

South Carolina is also considered to be a state that could foreshadow the winner of many of the states in the upcoming “Super Tuesday” races on February 5th.

While Mr Edwards likely will not walk away with a public victory in South Carolina, he continues to collect delegates for the Democratic convention and will probably rack up another handful today.

Although he has yet to prove himself as a frontrunner among voters, Mr Edwards has no intention of dropping out of the race like former contender Dennis Kucinich.

Last week, Mr Edwards said, according to CNN, “I’m in this for the long haul. We’re continuing to accumulate delegates. There’s actually a very narrow margin between Mr Obama, Mrs Clinton and myself on delegates.”

Forty-five delegates are up for grabs in the South Carolina Democratic primary. Polls close at 7 p.m. EST Saturday evening.

Written by Ann Turner © 2008 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved.