• Politico frames the fight for the GOP nomination in South Carolina as one between McCain’s experience and Huckabee’s faith.

Other GOP candidates, particularly former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, may play a significant role. But chats with conservative faithful find that many seem torn between Huckabee’s charismatic embrace of social conservatism and McCain’s rugged appeal on national security, particularly in a post-Sept. 11 world.

• Immigration is an issue for South Carolina Republicans, but not the issue.

The candidates leading in state polls, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Arizona Sen. John McCain, are also the candidates tagged as softest on the issue by anti-illegal immigrant groups.

“It’s a paradox of the electorate. Even though they say it’s their top issue, it appears that they are willing to overlook it,” or look at it in concert with other issues, said Tim Dale, a political scientist at the University of South Carolina.

• And the Associated Press talks to one local woman at last week’s Obama rally about her audacity to hope.

And somewhere in a screaming sea of 4,000, Arlene Estevez is pondering a parable: When a man asked for help, she remembers, God sent a rope. Then a ladder. When both went unused, He took them back.

“The world has seemed so hopeless. It’s like there was nobody there to help us up and help us out,” she says. “To me, (Obama is) the rope and the ladder. It’s our opportunity right now, and I’m not going to miss it.”