Obama Wins in South Carolina With Swell of Black
By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com staff writer
Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) scored an overwhelming
victory today over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.)
in South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary
with massive support from black voters.
Clinton finished second and former senator John
Edwards of North Carolina finished third in a contest
that sets up a full-scale clash between Clinton and
Obama on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5. The vote climaxed
several weeks of sometimes bitter personal clashes
between Obama and Clinton and her husband, former
President Bill Clinton, that seemingly contributed to
the electorate polarizing along racial lines.
"Tonight, the cynics who believed that what began in
the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a
different story by the good people of South Carolina,"
Obama said, according to prepared remarks. "After four
great contests in every corner of this country, we
have the most votes, the most delegates, and the most
diverse coalition of Americans we've seen in a long,
Obama, the first black candidate regarded as a
legitimate contender for the Democratic presidential
nomination, won African American voters by a
four-to-one margin - numbers that nearly replicated
his performance among blacks in Iowa and Nevada.
Unlike in those two states, however, where blacks made
up 4 percent and 15 percent of those voting, African
American voters were more than 50 percent of the
electorate in South Carolina tonight.
Among white voters, the candidates ran far closer,
with Clinton and Edwards, a native of South Carolina,
running neck and neck while Obama lagged slightly
behind. But among black voters, Clinton's showing was
modest and Edwards's was negligible.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest ranking African
American in Congress, insisted that Obama's
performance transcended a strong black vote, noting
that he did relatively well among white voters.
"In the last 48 hours, voters decided to reject the
racial animus that seemed to be developing," said
Clyburn in an interview with MSNBC moments after the
race was called at 7 pm. Eastern time.
Obama's win is his second in the presidential campaign
- and the first since Iowa's Jan. 3 caucuses. After
Obama's win in Iowa, Clinton bounced back to win New
Hampshire and Nevada. Unlike those votes, which were
quite close, Obama carried South Carolina
With each of the front-runners now claiming two wins
each, the focus of the race will shift to the 24
states scheduled to vote on Feb. 5 - a day that the
two campaigns have had circled on their calendars for
months as the stakes grew higher.
Clinton, wary of polls showing Obama far out in front,
in recent days sought to cast the South Carolina
primary as a foregone conclusion. Although she and her
daughter Chelsea spent the day greeting voters today,
she flew off to Tennessee this evening, a state set to
vote on Feb. 5.
Clinton spent two days this week outside of South
Carolina, making stops in California, and New Jersey
among other states, in an effort to signal her
campaign's focus on the upcoming Super Tuesday
primaries and caucuses.
"Thank you to the people of South Carolina who voted
today and welcomed me into their homes over the last
year," Clinton said in a statement released at 8 p.m.
Eastern time after she called Obama to offer her
congratulations. "We now turn our attention to the
millions of Americans who will make their voices heard
in Florida and the twenty-two states as well as
American Samoa who will vote on February 5th."
Obama, too, quickly switched his focus to states
voting on the first Tuesday in February, and plans to
fly to George tonight after his victory speech in
order to campaign in the Peach State and Alabama
There were 45 Democratic national delegates at stake
in the South Carolina primary, a tiny fraction of the
1,600 national convention delegates that will be
contested by the candidates on Feb. 5. South Carolina
Republicans held their primary a week ago.
For Edwards, a native of South Carolina and the winner
of the state's 2004 Democratic presidential primary,
the results were a disappointment. While Edwards did
far better than his meager four percent in Nevada, he
still ran well behind Obama and even Clinton --
raising questions about his viability as the race
turns to Feb. 5.
On the campaign trail, Edwards has long pledged he
would remain in the contest until the Democratic
convention, and his campaign gave no indication of
rethinking that oath in the wake of tonight's results.
Today's Democratic vote followed a week of angry
bickering between Obama and the Clintons in a
back-and-forth that took on troubling racial
Obama and his supporters accused the Clinton campaign
of distorting his record on the war and other issues,
belittling his experience in government, and unfairly
trying to tie him to the conservative policies of the
Reagan administration. The Clinton camp contends that
Obama has exaggerated his opposition to the war in
Iraq and lacks the experience Clinton has to turn
rhetoric into political and legislative reality.
The Obama and Clinton camps have clashed repeatedly
since last Saturday's Nevada caucuses, including in a
fiery debate on Monday night in Myrtle Beach, S.C. In
that gathering, Obama made a reference to Clinton's
work as a "corporate lawyer" and service on the board
of Wal-Mart, while she sought to highlight his ties to
indicted real estate developer Tony Rezko.
In the days after the debate, the Clinton campaign
launched a radio ad that said Obama believed
Republicans had been the party of ideas over the last
few decades; Obama's campaign responded with a radio
ad of its own that claimed that Clinton would "say
anything" to win.
In recent days those tensions subsided slightly with
both campaigns pulling negative radio ads about one
another late in the week and the two candidates
calling for comity.
January 26, 2008; 8:55 PM ET