FLORENCE, S.C. – Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday denied that her campaign traded money for an endorsement from one of South Carolina's most influential black politicians.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Clinton responded to questions about the consulting contract her campaign negotiated with state Sen. Darrell Jackson, who last week endorsed her candidacy rather than of top rivals John Edwards or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
"Senator Jackson was someone who was involved in my husband's campaigns. He was someone we turned to for political advice and counsel and I'm proud to have him on my team," Clinton told the AP.
Soon after the endorsement, Jackson acknowledged that his media consulting firm had negotiated a $10,000 per month contract with Clinton's campaign. Jackson has said he turned down more lucrative contracts from other candidates.
Although he backed Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary, Jackson said he now supports Clinton because she has the best shot of winning the White House.
Mo Elleithee, a Clinton spokesman, said Friday that Jackson's firm will advise the campaign on "political matters in South Carolina, outreach, organizing issues" and purchasing advertising.
Jackson introduced Clinton when she spoke to more than 1,500 people gathered at Allen University, a historically black college in Columbia, where she lashed out at President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, saying that Iraq needs to know "the blank check days are over."
On Monday evening, Clinton attended a tribute in Charleston to Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a leading black member of Congress as No. 3 in the House leadership. African-Americans account for 49 percent of the state's Democratic primary vote.
Clinton, who spoke to the AP during her first trip to this early voting state since announcing her White House bid, also said South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from its Statehouse grounds, in part because the nation should unite under one banner while at war.
"I think about how many South Carolinians have served in our military and who are serving today under our flag and I believe that we should have one flag that we all pay honor to, as I know that most people in South Carolina do every single day," the New York senator said.
"I personally would like to see it removed from the Statehouse grounds."
Other Democratic hopefuls, including Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, have said the flag should come down. The banner, which once flew over the Statehouse dome and now flies nearby, is the subject of an ongoing NAACP boycott.
Clinton is one of several Democrats to draw huge crowds during campaign stops in the state, but she said during the interview that her party will have a tough time winning in GOP-heavy South Carolina.
"I think it's going to be hard for any Democrat to carry the state," she said. "The Republican Party is very strong here."
Clinton's visit comes close on the heels of Obama's two-day trip to the state in which he drew crowds of about 2,000 people.