SPARTANBURG, S.C. — At the Phase II Barber Shop, customer Stephanie Kelly said she wasn't fazed by the back-and-forth between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over who allegedly injected racial issues into the campaign over the past week or so.
"I don't think everything said is racial," said Kelly, a 38-year-old African-American. "If you keep thinking things are racial, then they always will be."
Less than a mile away, Lionel Harmon, 66, was working out in Mount Moriah Baptist Church's gym — and getting worked up over what he felt were racially insensitive comments by Clinton when she credited President Lyndon Johnson, not Martin Luther King Jr., with passing civil rights legislation in the 1960s.
"It's going to hurt her here without a doubt — I'm always hearing people complaining about it," said Harmon as he peddled a stationary bike. "A lot of people were turned off by it."
Washington pundits and politicians have thundered at length about the controversy, which Clinton and Obama tried to extinguish by calling a truce during Tuesday night's debate in Las Vegas. But what do voters think?
With South Carolina's Jan. 26 Democratic primary fast approaching, the state's African-American residents — who'll cast about 50 percent of the vote — are taking stock of what was said, who said it and whether it matters enough to influence their votes.
Some voters, such as Kelly and Phase II Barber Shop owner Timmigo Burnett, say that Clinton's MLK-LBJ remarks and comments from her aides about Obama's admitted past drug use, were more symptoms of campaign politics-as-usual than they were playing the race card.
"In the past, all candidates try to find negative stuff," said Burnett, 47. "I think there's a lot being made of the racial issue. I think Hillary would be good for (African-Americans and whites) and I think Obama would be good for both."
Tammie Foster, 47, a Mount Moriah Baptist Church member, said the talk of Obama's drug use and Clinton's assertion that it took a president to get civil rights laws enacted bothered her, but she doesn't blame Clinton.
"I think hers was a poor choice of words and that if she could take them back, she would," Foster said. "On the drugs, my thought is what happened in the past should stay in the past. But I don't think it's so much her (Clinton's) doing, but the people in her campaign giving it to reporters. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt."
Still, Foster says she's having a hard time choosing between Obama and Clinton and is seeking divine guidance through prayer. When the race-tinged arguing between the campaigns erupted, Foster said she did "some extra praying."
Mike Fowler, 47 and a self-described conservative-independent African-American, was less forgiving. He questioned the sincerity of Clinton's emotional moment prior to the New Hampshire primary.
"She didn't cry during Hurricane Katrina when all those black people were stuck on rooftops," Fowler said. "She thought this campaign was a coronation, and it's not."
He said Clinton's references to King, Johnson and civil rights were a sign of desperation and a signal to white voters.
"She played the race card, sending a message to white people that, 'Hey, white people, wake up! He (Obama) is a black man!'" Fowler said.
Rocarrol Curry, 60, disagreed.
She showed up at the church wearing a pink Hillary for President shirt and a straw hat adorned with Hillary campaign buttons. Curry, a vice president of the Spartanburg Democratic Party and a retired schoolteacher, said she'd already voted for Clinton via absentee ballot.
"I don't judge a person by the color of their skin, but the content of their character," she said, borrowing a famous line from King. "Hillary has a lot of content, and she's married to Bill."
Curry said that Obama bears some responsibility for fanning the racial flames by seemingly equating himself to King. Curry questioned Obama's racial identity, noting that his late father was Kenyan and his late mother was a white American.
"As for comparing himself to Martin Luther King, he's no Martin Luther King," Curry said.
Now that both candidates have called for the racially charged rhetoric to stop, the flap appears to be cooling down in the Palmetto State.
But Blease Graham, a University of South Carolina political science professor, doubted that this flare-up of sensitivity over perceived racial slights will go away completely.
"It's always on people's minds as part of the political heritage of the state," Graham said. "The genie's not going back in the bottle, but it won't cause much mischief — the issue is just too divisive."