COLUMBIA, S.C. – Harvesting Democratic votes for president in South Carolina (search) is a tough row to hoe, even for those candidates who plant seeds of support while campaigning in the state's farmers market.
South Carolina Democrats are holding the first primary in the South next year — Feb. 3, a potentially make or break stop on the campaign trail. For Democrats, who are getting their first try at hosting the southern primary, it's a big deal and a big challenge in the heavily Republican Palmetto State.
"Right now, I would say you got Lieberman as an early frontrunner. Kerry is looking strong in organization," said South Carolina Democratic Chairman Joe Erwin.
Erwin said Lieberman's early lead is in part because he is an Orthodox Jew. His faith resonates even though very few Jewish voters populate the state.
"Most of the state is Christian. They respect the fact that this is a man of deep faith and I think that is helping Lieberman get gated in South Carolina with fundamentalists," Erwin said. "This state is conservative and South Carolina Democrats are more conservative than national Democrats."
Not everyone is ready to cast a vote for Lieberman. Many folks are anxious for a new tenant for the White House, but they argue over who should take the lease.
"I like Kerry because he was in Vietnam, and knew what it's like to be a soldier. And I like [Howard] Dean because he seems to have done real well as [Vermont] governor," said voter Steve Collum.
Kerry is courting active and retired military, among the highest population per capita nationwide.
Sen. John Edwards (search) from neighboring North Carolina is supposed to do well here, but has little traction or name recognition so far.
Aides say Edwards, who is also underperforming in his own state, according to recent polls, is planning a major mid-summer ad blitz.
Independents can vote in South Carolina's primary but there is no escaping the reality of the state's conservatism. Even though the only major debate of the campaign so far took place in South Carolina just a few weeks ago, many were unimpressed.
"They are Tweetledee and Tweetledum," George Osbaobiston said of the nine candidates. "They are all running very similar platforms, very similar personalities. They don't have driving personalities."
Adds friend Vondra Henson: "Nobody has impressed me. I'm with him. Nobody has to me their own, just their own agenda. They are just out to please everybody else, what everybody wants to hear."
South Carolina has about 4 million people, but only as few as 150,000 are expected to vote in the primary. A whopping 40 percent of those voters are likely to be African-Americans, making South Carolina a critical first gauge of a candidate's minority support.
African-Americans hope to make a major statement, but South Carolina minority voter turnout is historically abysmal.
"This is a golden opportunity for us to make a profound statement that these things have changed, and we're going to take care of our own first, take care of our constitutional rights and responsibilities. If you don't do it during election time, then shut up for the rest of the year, you don't have any reason to complain," said NAACP Columbia branch President Lonnie Randolph Jr.
To make their statement profound, South Carolinians both black and white know they are going to need a huge voter turnout. The problem is there are not a lot of Democrats in the state and the few there are have no experience holding an early primary and don't seem particularly motivated by their choices.
Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.