Barack Obama won a resounding victory over Hillary Clinton in a bitterly fought South Carolina Democratic primary last night. Taking more than twice as many votes his rival for the White House, it was a stunning victory that up-ended predictions about the Democratic nomination process.
Black and white voters came out in droves to repudiate the much criticised race-baiting tactics of former President Bill Clinton. As a result Mr Obama is now level pegging with Mrs Clinton and his strong victory should restore the flagging spirits of his idealistic young supporters. The final result gave Mr Obama 55 per cent of the vote, Mrs Clinton 27 per cent, and Mr Edwards 18 per cent.
The stage is now set for a fight across 22 states on 5 February or Super Tuesday, as it is known. But the battle to win the party’s presidential nomination is expected to rumble on for several more months at least.
Speaking to a jubilant crowd Mr Obama gave one of his most powerful speeches of his campaign. “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,” he said. “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, long time.”
Supporters interrupted his speech with chants of "Yes, we can!" and "Race doesn't matter!"
Mr Obama told supporters that there were huge challenges ahead and in a nod to the ugly squabbling that has taken place with the Clinton campaign he said, "This is our chance to end it once and for all."
“We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together,’ he said. ‘It’s the kind of partisanship where you’re not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea — even if it’s one you never agreed with. That kind of politics is bad for our party, it’s bad for our country.”
In South Carolina Mr Obama captured more than twice as many votes as Mrs Clinton, and as many white men voted for Mr. Obama as for Mrs. Clinton. A resounding 70 per cent of white voters said they would be happy for if Mr. Obama to win the Democratic nomination. It’s the first time in any if the four primary contests that a candidate has carried more than 50 per cent of the vote making the Obama victory all the more decisive. However his share of the white vote, 24 per cent, was lower than he attracted in either Iowa or New Hampshire, a result no doubt of the states strained racial politics.
“This election is about the past versus the future,” Mr. Obama told euphoric supporters, “It’s about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that passes for politics today, or whether we reach for a politics of common sense and innovation — a shared sacrifice and shared prosperity.”
In the end his victory was a repudiation of efforts to use Mr Obama’s race was a wedge issue in the election. Mr Obama attracted a wide majority of black support and one-quarter of white voters who rejected those tactics.
The turnout was a record 530,000 people, almost 100,000 more than in the Republican primary a week ago and raising the prospect that Iowa could go Democratic if Mr Obama is the nominee in the general election.
South Carolina was selected by Democratic leaders to hold one of the opening contests in the nominating season to add racial and geographic diversity to the traditional opening states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
The campaign now spreads out to include California and New York, which account for large numbers of delegates and are costly to operate in. Mrs Clinton is already ahead in these states and she has indicated that he hopes to attract votes in Florida, which holds a ‘beauty contest’ primary on Tuesday. Stripped of its delegates for trying to vote earlier than permitted the candidates have agreed not to campaign there.
As soon as the polls were closed, Mrs. Clinton flew out to Tennessee to hold an evening campaign rally desperate to get the defeat in South Carolina behind her. Mr Clinton also made a hasty exit, heading to Independence Missouri, to carry on campaigning. Until his outbursts, which were seen as denigrating the Mr Obama, South Carolina’s black community looked on Mr Clinton with great affection. That now seems to have changed.
It was left to Mr Clinton, continuing his prominent role in the campaign, to give the concession speech. He said, “Hillary congratulated him, and I congratulate him. Now we go to Feb. 5, when millions of Americans can finally get into the act.”
The third place finish for John Edwards, has thrown his candidacy into doubt. A son of South Carolina who won the state in 2004, he failed even to capture second place. He could now become a king-maker between Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton, earning himself a promise of a prominent place in a new Democratic administration.
Mr Obama had to build an organisation from scratch in the state, because he was locked out by the Democratic establishment, which backed Mrs Clinton. Black women, some 80 percent giving their support, propelled his victory in particular. Some black women said they were offended by Mrs Clinton’s harsh attack on Mr Obama in Monday’s debate
Now that Mr Obama has won in Iowa and South Carolina and Mrs Clinton in New Hampshire and Nevada. The expectation is that the fight for the nomination will not end on 5 February but continues for several months.
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