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South welcomes first Democratic contest

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  • South Carolina's Democratic primary is Saturday
  • GOP contest was last week; Sen. John McCain won
  • Sen. John Edwards won the state in 2004, but he's now behind in the polls
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(CNN) -- The Democratic presidential hopefuls face their first contest in the South on Saturday.

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The Democratic White House hopefuls face off in the South for the first time Saturday.

South Carolina's Democratic primary comes one week after the state's Republican voters handed Sen. John McCain of Arizona a win.

The state, once part of the old Democrats' "Solid South," has become a Republican stronghold -- voting Republican in 10 of the last 11 presidential elections.

The GOP holds the governorship, both U.S. Senate seats, four of the state's six U.S. House seats and both houses of the state legislature.

The Democratic contenders are vying for the support of South Carolina's African-Americans, who make up about half of the state's Democratic primary voters.

These voters will be crucial to the outcome of Saturday's primary. They now appear to be leaning heavily toward Sen. Barack Obama, who, if elected, would be the country's first black president.

Saturday's contest marks the end of a bitter race in South Carolina. The Democratic candidates opened up the week with a heated debate in Myrtle Beach.

The debate, put together by CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus, was marked by sharp exchanges between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Obama. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who remained quiet during much for the back-and-forth, said he was the only adult in the campaign.

The exchanges allowed Edwards, a South Carolina native, to cast himself as the candidate more interested in policy discussions than political sniping.

"I was proud to represent the grown-up wing of the Democratic Party," he said.

Edwards took the state in 2004, but he's running a distant third according to recent polls, behind Clinton and Obama.

Region by region

The northwest portion of South Carolina, known as the Piedmont Region, is the state's staunchest Republican area. Greenville County is the most populous and most industrialized county in the state. The religious, conservative area also includes Spartanburg and Anderson.

The Midlands includes Columbia, the state capital, and much of the black majority 6th Congressional District. It's the most Democratic part of the state and also includes Orangeburg, home of the historically black South Carolina State University.

The Pee Dee region was originally home to the Pee Dee Indians. It has its commercial roots in tobacco and cotton. The city of Sumter has become more progressive and tends to be slightly more Democratic than the rest of the state.

The Low Country region is a diverse group of counties that collectively mirror the statewide vote. There is a significant black population, especially in central-city Charleston. Charleston and new, prosperous recreational communities along the coast are giving Republicans more strength. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Robert Yoon and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.

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