COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) -- South Carolina's Democratic primary is shaping up to be a tight race, but one candidate seems conspicuously absent from the campaign trail in barbecue country -- the front-runner.
Hillary Clinton and rivals John Edwards, left, and Barack Obama, right, appear together in South Carolina in April.
Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York may be the current favorite to win the party's presidential nomination, but she hasn't visited this early primary state since October 13, when she held a town hall meeting in Florence.
And according to a review of the candidates' schedules, Clinton has made seven trips to South Carolina, featuring 16 campaign events, since announcing her presidential bid in January.
In contrast, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has appeared in South Carolina 12 times and held 33 campaign events since announcing his bid in December 2006, while Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has visited 11 times, making 24 appearances across the state.
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware has crammed 32 campaign events into eight South Carolina visits, including a recent two-day swing his staff packed with nine public appearances.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who just relocated some of his South Carolina campaign staff to Iowa, was two shy of Clinton's event total, with 14 appearances this year in the Palmetto State.
Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut has made seven trips to South Carolina since January with 14 campaign stops.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has not campaigned in South Carolina.
CNN's tally of campaign stops did not include South Carolina's two presidential debates this year nor any events closed to the press or the public, such as fundraisers.
Since August, Clinton has made four appearances here, two of which were speeches. During that same period, Obama and Edwards have each made nine visits.
Is Clinton counting on her name recognition and big lead in state polls to carry her through? Of course not, said a Clinton campaign aide.
"Sen. Clinton has an aggressive campaign in South Carolina," said Clinton South Carolina spokesman Zac Wright. "We're committed to the Palmetto State, and we have an aggressive campaign on the ground that is only intensifying as the campaign continues."
The Clinton campaign opened four offices around the state in October, sending Clinton adviser Terry McAuliffe to celebrate the openings.
Much of the Democratic nomination battle is being played out in Iowa and New Hampshire, which partially explains why there are fewer campaigns visits from all the Democrats to South Carolina.
The Iowa caucuses will be held January 3, to be followed by New Hampshire, and then Nevada. South Carolina's Democratic primary will round out the Democratic National Committee's early state calendar schedule, with a contest likely to occur January 26.
Edwards, who has spent considerable time in Iowa and is counting on a win there to propel him through the early primary calendar, has managed to campaign in South Carolina more than twice as much as Clinton.
"John Edwards won the South Carolina primary in 2004 so he understands that to win here, you have to actually spend time here and show voters that you are committed to this state and their concerns," Edwards spokeswoman Teresa Wells said. Edwards, a South Carolina native, won the state primary in 2004.
Obama, who has spent more money than any Democrat on TV ads in Iowa and is similarly looking for a win in the Hawkeye State, also is devoting major resources to South Carolina
His campaign has built a grass-roots operation in the state, drawing national attention with his faith outreach efforts.
"What we've seen from early on is that the more people get to know Sen. Obama, and the more they get to listen to and interact with him, the more they come to not only like him but trust him as a leader who can deliver real, meaningful change," Obama spokesman Kevin Griffis said.
On November 3, Obama chose Spartanburg to debut a major rhetorical shift for his campaign, criticizing Clinton for running what he called a "textbook campaign."
"Obviously, we'd like to have her here more, that would be great," said Joe Werner, executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party. "But I think she has a very strong surrogate representing her down here."
That surrogate, of course, is former President Clinton, who remains enormously popular with African-Americans and has made four appearances during the last two weeks, suggesting the Clinton campaign will use his presence more and more in South Carolina as his wife works to break out of a tight three-way race in Iowa.
University of South Carolina political scientist Blease Graham said that having the former president in the state will only help his wife, especially among African-Americans.
Graham also suggested that the senator is not suffering from her comparative lack of appearances here.
"I think her image is being reinforced by the constant coverage by the media," Graham said. "She may not be physically here, but in terms of image and voice she is here."
At a speech in Rock Hill in October, former President Clinton spoke on his wife's behalf and defended her from attacks by her opponents.
"They continue to say she's the most unelectable because she's so polarizing," Clinton told the crowd. "Well, they have dumped on her for 16 years. They'd all be polarizing too if the right wing of the Republican Party, which controls their politics, had been dumping on them for 16 years. I'd like to see how those boys would stand up to it. I think the girl's done pretty well."
State Sen. Robert Ford, a member of Clinton's South Carolina steering committee, said he is happy to have the ex-president visit the state if the senator is too busy to make the trip.
"If Hillary's not here, then we got Bill," Ford said. "Remember it's two for one. We're not upset about that. We understand that she is running a 50-state race and that she gets more requests than the other guys."
Ford said that Hillary Clinton's December and January schedule is "loaded with South Carolina stuff." E-mail to a friend