Is South Carolina a Game Changer?

Not long after the polls closed in South Carolina, NBC's Tim Russert suggested that Barack Obama might win by 30 points. The very idea struck me as utterly ridiculous. After all, his biggest lead in a non-partisan poll was 15 points, rumor had it the race had become more competitive the campaign's waning days, and this is a state in which Hillary Clinton had led for an entire year, including as recently as December. For Russert to even suggest a huge victory was likely to make a "mere" 12-point Obama victory look unimpressive by comparison.

But it turns out the number wasn't crazy after all. With just about every precinct reporting, the final results look like this:

1. Barack Obama -- 55.4%
2. Hillary Clinton -- 26.5%
3. John Edwards -- 17.6%

I think most political observers expected an Obama victory, but I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who thought he'd win by 29 points. He beat Clinton and Edwards combined. His vote totals were also more than John McCain and Mike Huckabee combined. More Dems voted for Obama yesterday than voted in the entire 2004 South Carolina Democratic Primary. Obama even had more votes than George W. Bush had when he beat McCain in 2000.

Whether the results have a lasting impact or not remains to be seen, but Obama's win was a good ol' fashioned thumpin'. John Dickerson put it this way: "Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton so badly in South Carolina it may spawn some new kind of Southern colloquialism. When Clemson spanks an opponent by five touchdowns it will be called an Obama. Fans will taunt the losing team as they walk off the field by making an 'O' against their foreheads."

As for all the talk about race, there were some polls in the last few days showing Obama's support dropping to just 10% of white South Carolinians. The reality proved to be far different -- Obama over-performed among white voters, winning a clear majority of younger whites and tying Clinton among white men.

As I'm usually inclined to do, let's consider the various spins we're likely to hear:


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