Barack Obama Buries Hillary Clinton in South Carolina

Election '08

Sen. Barack Obama decisively won South Carolina's Democratic Primary Saturday, where his grassroots, upstart campaign with its defiant message of change and new leadership defeated a formidable new political machine assembled by Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, her husband the former president, and administration veterans.

As Obama stayed to celebrate a victory that creates new momentum for a nationwide campaign, Hillary Clinton left for Tennessee and Bill Clinton headed to Missouri.

"After four great contests in every corner of this country, we have the most votes, we have the most delegates, and the most diverse coalition of Americans that we have seen in a long, long time," Obama said to thunderous cheers in the convention center in South Carolina's capital city, Columbia. "In nine short days, nearly half the nation will have the chance to join us in saying we are tied of business as usual, we are hungry for change and we are ready to believe again."

"We are looking for more than a change of the party in the White House," Obama said. "We are looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington. It is a status quo that that is bigger than any one party. And they are fighting back with everything they have got."

Obama promised to take his message to the entire country in coming days.

"Yes we can heal this nation," he said, speaking in a preacher-like cadence. "Yes we can seize our future. And as we leave this great state with a new wind in our backs, in a county we love ... We will take the same message we had when we were up and when we were down: When we are many, we are one."

A Decisive Victory

Obama received 55.4 percent of the vote in a record turnout of 532,000 voters. Four years ago, 290,000 South Carolinians voted in the Democratic Primary. On Saturday, Clinton received 26.5 percent -- less than half Obama's vote -- and former Sen. John Edwards, received 17.6 percent of the vote. Obama won all but two South Carolina counties.

"I have called Sen. Obama to congratulate him and wish him well," Clinton said in a prepared statement where she thanked "the people of South Carolina" who welcomed her into their homes and voted for her. "We now turn our attention to the millions of Americans who will make their voices heard in Florida and the 22 states as well as American Samoa who will vote on February 5th."

Clinton's remarks suggest she will make an effort to contest Florida, whose primary is next Tuesday but which has been sanctioned by the Democratic Party for moving its vote ahead of Feb. 5. The state will not be able to award delegates, under the party's rules, but a win there would generate tremendous press as 22 states prepare to vote a week later.

A Hard-Fought Victory

South Carolina was not taken for granted by Obama's campaign, even though pollsters and pundits have noted that nearly half of the state's Democratic Party voters are African-American and are prone to see his candidacy as an issue of racial pride. They frequently noted that Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr. won the state's Democratic primary in 1984 and 1988.

On Saturday, 15,000 Obama volunteers fanned out across the state to hold signs on street, get voters to polls, monitor the voting process and guard against voter suppression tactics or technical problems with the state's paperless electronic voting machines, said David Axelrod, the campaign manager, meeting with reporters. And as hundreds of volunteers crowded into Columbia's convention center and watched overhead screens with news reports attributing the win to the southern state with the second highest number of African-American Democratic voters -- Georgia is first -- the crowd shouted in unison, "Race doesn't matter. Race doesn't matter. Race doesn't matter."

Axelrod said the voters who have supported Obama in Iowa, where he won the state's caucuses, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina cut across racial and political dividing lines. "There is an appetite for change in this country," he said. "It is in red states and blue states. It is among independents and Republicans."

Obama's primary win appeared to heed lessons from New Hampshire, where the Illinois senator lost in the nation's first primary to Clinton by 7,481 votes. In New Hampshire, his state campaign was not as well-organized as Clinton's campaign, which took advantage of a winter thaw to send swarms of supporters into the streets with campaign signs. In contrast, Obama's campaign focused on reaching voters by phone and door knocking.

In South Carolina, the season's second primary, Obama's campaign had a more visible presence on primary day where Clinton's campaign did not, according to observers in several counties reached throughout that day. In contrast, Clinton's campaign turned to many established state and local African-American politicians, as well as political and entertainment stars from Washington, Hollywood, and the former president, to sway its voters.

Hillary Clinton's loss in South Carolina is sure to be disappointing to her campaign. She campaigned vigorously in the state for many months and especially in the days leading up to Saturday's primary. On days when she had several events on one side of the state, Bill Clinton was on the other side of this relatively poor, rural state seeking votes. Numerous other campaign surrogates, drawn from the country's African-American political and entertainment stars joined her, as did Clinton administration cabinet officials and retired military leaders, including admirals and generals. Axelrod said the Clinton campaign spent $8 million in the state. He did not say what Obama spent.

"In the days ahead, I'll work to give voice to those who are working harder than ever to be heard," Clinton said, in her statement, as she looked ahead to the next nominating contests. "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. Our families and our future."

Supporters of Obama interviewed Saturday said they felt the country needed a future that was not tied to the Clintons -- even though her campaign and Obama's share many of the same stands on issues and national priorities.

"I think people are looking for something different. I think the young generation is getting more involved," said Kevin Carson, a volunteer from Baltimore who is a member of that state's Democratic Party Central Committee. "People were very committed. There's a lot of energy in the campaign. People are really upbeat about it."

Carson said he and his fellow campaign workers have learned from past Democratic presidential campaigns. "This is more than just about winning," he said. "It is about moving an agenda that puts this country back where it is supposed to be."

No Major Voting Problems

Obama volunteers were also looking for tactics that might discourage their supporters. In earlier contests, the Clinton campaign or its allies have tried to discourage some likely Obama voters, such as saying students shouldn't vote in Iowa or challenging special precincts created for minority workers in Las Vegas casinos. To be fair, Obama's supporters in two of Nevada's largest labor unions pressured its pro-Clinton members to back him.

However, in South Carolina, observers watching for this dimension of campaigns said Saturday's primary was fairly "clean."

"We are getting a good result in terms of clean behavior," said Thomas Reed, a former Department of Justice Voting Section senior trial attorney who volunteered for the Obama campaign and was monitoring polls in Sumter County.

Dwight James, state director of the NAACP in South Carolina, said there were scattered small-scale problems with electronic voting machines not working properly and voters being turned away at the precinct door, but nothing of a scope to question the results.

Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, said his group also monitored potential problems with electronic machines, but by late afternoon had "no calls" with reported problems. In contrast, he said some voters were not on voter lists.

"A lot of the traditional problems with voter intimidation and voter suppression are in the General Election with an opposing party," he said.

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