Posted: January 26, 2008 8:10 PM
Clinton Trails Obama By Double Digits; Edwards Third in S.C.
Barack Obama, the first-term Illinois senator, scored a decisive victory Saturday in South Carolina primary — the Democrats’ final early test before Super Tuesday on Feb. 5.
“South Carolina voters rejected the politics of the past and they wanted something different,” said Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Obama.
Sen. Hillary Clinton was projected to come in second, trailing by double digits. Former Sen. John Edwards, who won his native state four years ago, was expected to come in third.
Clinton, whose husband former President Bill Clinton campaigned hard throughout the state in the days ahead of the vote, decided to fly to Tennessee, one of the Feb. 5 states, leaving as the polls were closing.
“[The Clinton campaign] already spent all day lowering expectations,” Gloria Borger said on CNN. “In November, Hillary Clinton was beating Obama by 20 points.”
In fact, Clinton campaign officials were looking beyond Saturday’s vote.
“This summer Senator Obama’s campaign flatly predicted victory in South Carolina and today they lead by 12,” Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson said even before the results were in. “Regardless of the outcome today, this race moves to Florida where hundreds of thousands of Democrats will vote on Tuesday and then on to February 5, where we are well positioned.”
The results were a blow to the Edwards campaign, which looked to gain traction as a third viable candidate for the nomination.
Edwards apparently did well among white men and in poorer parts of the state, but he failed to catch Clinton. He appeared midweek on the “Late Show with David Letterman” to say he wanted to represent the “grown-up wing of the Democratic party.”
CNN exit polls projected that some 81 percent of black voters backed Obama, while he drew some 24 percent of white votes.
“If this victory matches the exit polls and he wins this state by 30 points, it is an enormous victory,” Tim Russert said. “He can say he put together a winning coalition.”
In the days before the vote, Clinton argued that Obama would win in the state because of support from black voters.
“[Obama] ran as a Democratic candidate for president who happens to be black, not as the black candidate. And the Clinton campaign set out deliberately… to make him the black candidate,” Mark Shields said on Friday’s NewsHour. “Bill Clinton is already into a pre-spin about the South Carolina result. And it reads this way: ‘They tell me Hillary can’t win down here because blacks are going to support Barack Obama overwhelmingly.’”
That campaign tactic appeared to have an impact Saturday. Nearly six in 10 voters said the former president’s efforts for his wife was important to their choice, and among them, slightly more favored Obama than Hillary Clinton.
“What they are saying is we want to do away with this race-type politicking,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told MSNBC.
But whatever the role of former President Clinton, Obama’s support appeared to be widespread. Overall, Obama defeated Clinton among both men and women.
The political victory was Obama’s first since he won the kick-off Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, scored an upset in the New Hampshire primary a few days later. They split the Nevada caucuses, she winning the turnout race, he gaining a one-delegate margin. In a historic race, she hopes to become the first woman to occupy the White House while Obama is the strongest black contender in history.