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Hillary Clinton's critical choice

Attacking Obama could push youth away from politics.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton will soon make a decision about the direction of her campaign in the South Carolina Democratic primary on Jan. 26. Her options are either to play nice and perhaps lose, or to go on the attack and win.

In a tight race against Sen. Barack Obama, Senator Clinton may choose the latter. Her recent remarks about the words and actions of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. were probably a trial balloon to gauge the impact of going negative. But in so doing, she could alienate several major Democratic constituencies – African-Americans and youth – perhaps for a generation to come. There is no limit to the politics of destruction possible in South Carolina. George W. Bush set a precedent for that in 2000 by shredding John McCain, who had won New Hampshire.

Until her poor performance in Iowa, Clinton had been banking on South Carolina votes. Bill Clinton had proven his "comeback kid" status in 1992 by winning South Carolina and other states, mostly due to African-American support. In 2006, Clinton allies pushed forward the South Carolina primary so it would come on the heels of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary. They hoped that winning there would clinch the nomination after New Hampshire and Iowa victories.

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