(CNN) -- Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are locked in an intense battle to win South Carolina voters.
Sen. Barack Obama won in Iowa, but came in second in New Hampshire.
So far, the score is even between the two -- Clinton narrowly edged out Obama in New Hampshire, and Obama finished first in Iowa.
In South Carolina, the two are in a tight race heading into the state's January 26 Democratic primary.
Key to winning South Carolina is winning its African-Americans, who make up about 50 percent of the state's Democratic primary voters.
"If a Democratic candidate is going to make headway in the Deep South -- and this being a bellwether Deep South state -- you need the black vote to do that," said Todd Shaw, assistant professor of political science at the University of South Carolina. Watch the battle shaping up in South Carolina »
The state's black population has been divided between loyalty to the Clintons, longtime allies of the black community, and Obama, the newcomer.
But the latest polls suggest support could be shifting. In July, 52 percent of black Democratic primary voters said they favored Clinton, compared to Obama's 33 percent. In December, Obama's support had risen to 45 percent while Clinton's dropped to 46.
Campaigners for the New York senator hope the momentum from her New Hampshire win will carry her through South Carolina.
"We are ready. New Hampshire of course gave us a springboard to take us right into January 26," said Kelly Adams, Clinton's South Carolina campaign director.
A few blocks away from Clinton's Columbia headquarters, volunteers for Obama spread the Illinois senator's message of change to anyone who will listen.
"People are just fired up. They're ready to make this state the next win," said Obama adviser Rick Wade.
Obama received a big boost in South Carolina on Thursday when Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate four years ago, announced he's endorsing Obama.
Obama supporter Damon Hardy said some blacks are still waffling because they are unsure of his long-term chances.
"It's like they want Obama to win, but they don't want their vote to be wasted on someone who they don't think is going to win. They don't really think Obama has a chance. So, they're voting Hillary Clinton because of her experience," he said.
But the other half of the equation can't be ignored. The white Democratic vote makes up the other 50 percent of the vote.
"You see something with younger, white voters and older, more established high income white voters favoring Obama. Clinton does well, of course, among women," said Ray Chapman, political editor of The State.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, while a distant third, is still in the race.
The South Carolina native seems to be resonating with working-class voters who have suffered in the hard-hit textile industry.
At a campaign stop in Clemson, he used his roots to bolster his appeal.
"I was born here. I know what your lives are like. I do not have to read this in a book. I know it firsthand," he said.
When Edwards took South Carolina in the 2004 primary, he captured 37 percent of the black vote. E-mail to a friend
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