HUNTINGTON -- It was a special day Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Huntington. Not only was it Mother's Day and Pentecost, but Sen. Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, were in the pews of the beautiful church at 1124 5th Ave.
Clinton, fighting an uphill battle for the Democratic nomination, didn't come to speak, but rather to listen to the Rev. Paul Russell, senior pastor, and attend church services. Hillary and Chelsea Clinton did stay after the hour-long service to shake hands and get pictures taken with many of the 300-plus people attending the service Sunday morning. The churchgoers included a gaggle of about 50 national media members traveling with the Clinton campaign.
West Virginia voters will go the polls Tuesday to vote for president and a number of other state and local offices. Kentucky voters will head to the polls May 20, and Ohio voters already voted for Clinton, who is behind by more than 100 delegates with only a handful states left in the primary election.
"It says a lot about her as a person that she came here to worship," said Paige Cruz, a church member. "We're delighted she is here. It was a surprise. I'm just delighted a major candidate was here with us today."
Sandra Folsom, a Chesapeake, Ohio, resident who has been the organist at First United Methodist Church for more than 40 years, was excited Clinton "chose our church to visit on Mother's Day. I was a little nervous. It's not every day I play before a senator. We're glad they're here."
Talley Sergent, Clinton's state campaign chairwoman, grew up in the Huntington church and arranged the visit, according to her mother, Lillian Sergent.
"I think it's an honor," Lillian Sergent said of the visit to her church by Clinton. The visit came too late to have an impact on Sergent's vote, though. Sergent, a Huntington High School history teacher, already has cast an absentee ballot for Tuesday's election. While she wouldn't say who she voted for, she did say she was a registered Democrat.
The visit was a special one for her, since it brought her daughter back in town for Mother's Day, Sergent said. "I only get to see her when she's passing through," she said of her daughter. "She's been with the campaign to Iowa, Texas, South Carolina and other states."
Mary Lamb, another long-time church member, was among the undecided voters Clinton is still seeking to convince to vote for her.
"I still have one more day to think about it," she said of the Democratic primary for president. "I'd like to see them on the same ticket."
Chris Chiles, Cabell County prosecutor and a church member, said it was an honor Clinton came to his church to worship God, not as a political event.
Chiles also has already voted absentee. He declined to say which candidate he voted for with one exception. "I voted for myself," he said. Chiles, a Democrat, is unopposed in the primary.
In his sermon, Russell talked about Pentecost being the time Christ's disciples spoke in tongues and the native languages of the people they were trying to convert.
"Pentecost says the gospel is for all people," Russell said. "No exceptions. The gospel is for the world. Sometimes, we are the ones who are lost of needs. Now, we need to open our arms to the rest of the world."
Later Sunday, Clinton toured the birthplace of Mother's Day in rural West Virginia, offering Democrats a subtle reminder Sunday that her fading candidacy remains strong among women and blue-collar, white voters.
That loyal base is expected to carry Clinton to a sizable victory in the primary on Tuesday, though it won't do much to close the gap between her and Barack Obama, her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton's lingering candidacy highlights not just her strengths but also how difficult it has been for Obama to make inroads among some key Democratic constituencies.
Clinton made a brief afternoon visit to the home of Anna Jarvis, who is credited with founding Mother's Day 100 years ago. Clinton spoke to reporters afterward and told stories about women who have changed history by pressing for equal rights and breaking into male-dominated careers.
She highlighted her own mother's working-class upbringing and quoted from letters she said mothers have written her recently.
"Keep fighting," Clinton said, reading from one of those letters. "The fact is that you stood throughout the constant ups and downs of this race. You never wavered and you never gave up."
Clinton said her favorite letter ended, "It's not over until the lady in the pantsuit says it is."
Though Obama has amassed a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates and has turned his attention to a general election against Republican John McCain, Clinton is pressing ahead in West Virginia and Kentucky -- states where the demographics strongly favor her.
Overall, her campaign has remained alive largely because of her 60 percent to 36 percent edge over Obama among white women voters in the primaries so far. But among college-educated white women -- the demographic of many feminists and of Clinton herself -- her edge is much smaller, 54 percent to 43 percent, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.
Even if, as expected, she racks up hefty wins in both West Virginia and Kentucky, it likely won't change the landscape of the race. But Clinton's advisers hope it will persuade party leaders that she is more likely than Obama to beat McCain.
Clinton did not mention Obama on Sunday. But campaign strategist Howard Wolfson said West Virginia is a key swing state that Republicans won in 2000 and 2004, and that the former first lady will put back in the Democratic column. He said Obama should beat her there if he wants her out of the race.
"Why can't Senator Obama beat Senator Clinton in West Virginia? Voters there have heard that he's the presumptive nominee," Wolfson said on "Fox News Sunday." "They've seen the great press he's gotten in the past couple of days. Let's let them decide. They have an opportunity. They want to end this on Tuesday, they're perfectly capable of it."
Besides his lead in pledged delegates, those won in primaries and caucuses, Obama on Saturday erased Clinton's once-commanding advantage among superdelegates, the elected Democrats and party leaders who will play a role in determining which one of them becomes the nominee.
Obama took Sunday off, spending it at home in Chicago. He has scheduled campaign appearances in Charleston, W.Va., and Louisville, Ky., on Monday.
Herald-Dispatch reporter David E. Malloy can be reached at email@example.com.
Where the candidates are
According to press releases from each campaign, the following are Sen. Hillary Clinton's and Sen. Barack Obama's schedules for today:
noon, Solutions for the American Economy Town Hall at West Side High School Cafeteria in Clear Fork, W.Va.
3 p.m., Solutions for America Rally at the Logan, W.Va. Memorial Field House
7 p.m., Old-Fashioned Democratic Rally hosted by Gov. Joe Manchin at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, W.Va.
12:15 p.m., Campaign event at Charleston Civic Center. Event tickets were distributed Sunday.