Former President Bill Clinton said during a campaign visit to Charleston on Saturday that South Carolina — home to an estimated 672,000 uninsured residents — stands to benefit the most from his wife's proposed health care plan.

During a half-hour speech to about 100 people at the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority on Meeting Street, the former two-term president championed Hillary Clinton's lifelong commitment to improving health care.

"We have got to do something about health care. The time has come," Clinton told members of the national black sorority's local graduate chapter. "South Carolina has a bigger stake than almost any state in America."

Clinton's visit to Charleston — which included stops at the Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital, downtown's City Market and the Finishing Touch Styling Salon on Dorchester Road — came only about a month after he spoke to some 800 students at Trident Technical College in North Charleston.

It also preceded a much-hyped visit by his wife's Democratic primary

challenger Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who is scheduled to hold a rally today with talk show host Oprah Winfrey at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

Beyond South Carolina, Clinton said his wife's health care plan also would drive down the high costs businesses now face to cover employees, a move that would free up capital and help businesses grow.

For example, Clinton said, General Motors builds about $1,500 into the price of each vehicle for its health care costs, compared with Japanese carmaker Toyota, which spends about $110.

"This is not only the humane thing to do," Clinton said. "But as we bring costs in line with our competitors around the world, it will create more jobs here by freeing up money that businesses were spending on health care to invest in the future."

Clinton also defended his wife's unsuccessful efforts during his presidency to create a universal health care plan. "I say it is better to fail going in the right direction than to succeed going in the wrong direction," he said.

Clinton was joined on the trail Saturday by Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia. "Hillary Clinton, like so many of us, is not a Johnny-come-lately to health care," said Lewis, a former civil rights leader. "We need her now more than ever before."

Edith Deas, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha's local chapter, said she found out at noon Friday that Clinton might speak at the sorority's regular meeting, but that it wasn't confirmed until late in the day.

She said Clinton's message hit home with the audience, some of whom work in health care and see firsthand the struggles uninsured residents face. "I think it was wonderful," she said of Clinton's speech. "I think it is a great big issue."

One of those in attendance was D'Jaris Whipper-Lewis, who has a master's degree in health administration. "That's a good platform," she said. "It is something that is very needed."

Still, S.C. Republican Party Chairman Katon Dawson said in a statement released Saturday that he doubted Hillary Clinton would be able to sway a majority of the state to support her.

"Today, Bill Clinton is trying to clean up Hillary's South Carolina mess," Dawson said. "But he never carried our state, and Hillary Clinton won't either — if she can win her party's nomination."