South Carolina ’08: Barack Obama Cruises To Victory In Democratic Primary

Illinois senator beats Hillary Clinton by near-two-to-one margin in Saturday presidential-nomination race; John Edwards comes in third.

Barack Obama is back in the game again after trampling over Senator Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday (January 26). It was the second win for the Illinois senator in the race for the party’s presidential nomination, and the Dems’ first contest in the South this cycle. Clinton beat out former Senator John Edwards for second place.

With most precincts reporting, Obama trounced Clinton by an almost two-to-one margin, taking 55 percent of the vote to her 27 percent. Edwards netted 18 percent. According to CNN, more than 530,000 votes were counted, with most precincts reporting. By contrast, only 290,000 Democratic voters turned out for the 2004 primary, according to The Washington Post.

Entering to chants of “Yes, we can,” Obama addressed the crowd, thanking his wife and children before showing his appreciation to South Carolina’s residents for a much-needed win. He was all smiles upon entering, but, perhaps in light of growing tension between his and Clinton’s campaigns, his speech was notably more forceful than the one he gave after his win in the Iowa caucus earlier this month.

“Over two weeks ago, we saw the people of Iowa proclaim that our time for change has come,” he said. “But there were those that doubted this country’s desire for something new, who said Iowa was a fluke, not to be repeated again. Well, 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 has won the two states with the most delegates so far in the Democratic presidential-nomination cycle, which he said in his speech gives him an advantage overall, even though Clinton has won more contests. Media outlets have reported conflicting delegate totals due to discrepancies in how to account for “superdelegates,” party leaders and officials who are granted a vote at July’s Democratic National Convention.

“I have called Senator Obama to congratulate him and wish him well,” Clinton said in a concession statement to the press, according to multiple sources. She later spoke to a crowd in Tennessee but only made a fleeting mention of the Saturday results.

“In the days ahead, I’ll work to give voice to those who are working harder than ever to be heard,” she continued in her statement. “For those who have lost their job or their home or their health care, I will focus on the solutions needed to move this country forward. That’s what this election is about. It’s about our country, our hopes and dreams.”

According to CNN exit polls, Clinton and Edwards drew 23 percent of the male vote, while Obama took 54 percent. More women voted for Obama (54 percent) than they did for Clinton (30 percent), and Edwards only netted 16 percent of their votes. According to MSNBC exit polls, Obama won 81 percent of black voters, while Clinton took 17 percent and Edwards only 1. Clinton won 36 percent of the white vote compared to Edwards’ 29 percent and Obama’s 24 percent.

Obama called his supporters “the most diverse coalition of Americans we have seen in a long, long time,” which includes “young people who’ve never had a reason to participate [in the electoral process] until now.” He could get even more of a boost on Sunday, when The New York Times runs an editorial piece by Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, called “A President Like My Father.”

Obama took the Iowa caucus handily earlier this month, while Clinton was the victor in New Hampshire and Michigan, although the Democratic National Committee has stripped the latter state of its delegates. Meanwhile, in the Nevada caucus, Clinton won the most local delegates but Obama was projected to win the most delegates to the national nominating convention.

Saturday’s Democratic primary was the first indication the party received as to how the South might be won in November. It was also the last significant Democratic primary before February 5, what’s famously known as “Super Tuesday,” when 23 states will host their primaries or caucuses.

The Saturday primary also came on the heels of Monday’s vicious CNN Democratic debate, during which Obama and Clinton exchanged barbs. At one point, Clinton accused Obama of consorting with slum lords and praising Republican President Ronald Reagan, while Obama took jabs at former President Bill Clinton, claiming he had distorted his record. Obama added that he felt like he was running against not one, but two Clintons. The controversy appeared to turn up a notch on Saturday: When asked a question about Obama saying it “took two people to beat him,” Bill Clinton reportedly responded by saying, according to ABC News, “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here.” Jackson, a black Democrat who ran for president in the ’80s, had not been mentioned in the question posed to Clinton.

Translation: South Carolina was a key win for Obama, with the results potentially holding sway over the forthcoming votes in two weeks — the difference between the White House and … well … some other house. In what’s no doubt the tightest presidential-nomination race in decades, every delegate counts, and 54 Democratic delegates were up for grabs in South Carolina.

Minutes before the polls closed, CNN revealed the results of several of its exit polls. When asked whether the events of the last week informed the direction of their vote, 31 percent of voters said they had, while 69 percent said they’d made up their minds long before that. When asked if America was ready for a woman president, 74 percent of those questioned said yes, with 24 percent responding in the negative. Meanwhile, 77 percent said the U.S. was ready for a black president, while 21 percent said no.

“What we’ve seen in these last weeks is … the politics that uses religion as a wedge … the politics that tells us we have to think, act and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly defines us,” Obama continued in his victory speech, perhaps alluding to the recent nasty back-and-forths between his and Clinton’s campaigns. “The assumption that young people are apathetic, the assumption that Republicans won’t cross over, the assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor, the assumption that African-Americans can’t support the white candidate, the white can’t support the African-America candidate. We are here tonight to say that that is not the America we believe in. … The choice in this election is not about regions or religions or genders. It’s not about rich versus poor, young versus old, and it’s not about black versus white. It’s about the past versus the future.”

In related political news, Florida Governor Charlie Crist on Saturday endorsed the candidacy of Senator John McCain — who won the Republican South Carolina primary last week — for the nation’s highest office. The announcement could give McCain, one of the party’s front-runners, a strong boost heading into Florida’s primary on Tuesday. McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are running neck and neck there in the most recent opinion polls.

[This story was originally published at 8:03 p.m. ET on 1.26.2007]