South Carolina Post-Mortem, Democrat Edition
As Chris Lawrence posted last night, Barack Obama handily won the South Carolina Democratic primary and native son John Edwards came in third.
The results, with a record turnout, were stunning:
Obama has long been projected to win, of course, but the RealClearPolitics average of the recent polls had it much closer: 38.4 to 26.8 to 19.2 As has happened with some frequency, the polls got the order of finish right and pegged the finish of the losers with great accuracy but far under-projected the ultimate vote for the winner.
The immediate result of this is that, if there was any doubt before, John Edwards is toast. Indeed, I’d say he’s crumbs at the bottom at the toaster at this point; it’s simply inconceivable that he’ll take the nomination at this point.
Technically, Edwards isn’t very far behind in the delegate count and could easily make up the difference. In reality, though, he’s 0-for-5 thus far in the states leading up to Super Tuesday and has lost in two states, Iowa and South Carolina, that played to his strengths. He’s vowed to stay in the race “to give voice to millions of Americans who have absolutely no voice” but I’d be quite surprised if he takes a single state.
Then again, most of us already figured that it was a two-way race between Clinton and Obama. Obviously, Obama gets a boost here from having won — especially given the margin — but it’s a pretty minor one since Clinton will almost surely win Florida Tuesday and regain the momentum.
Obama’s win was expected and the Clintons have done a good job of downplaying it. Maybe too good a job.
While it’s silly to say that the Democrats are the Party of the Klan, as Erick Erickson says with tongue in cheek, it’s going to be very difficult for the Clintons to repair their relationship with blacks once the nomination fight is over. While it’s incredibly unlikely that large numbers will defect to the GOP over this, it could seriously hamper the get out the vote effort with a key Democratic constituency.
And it seems to have backfired in the short term, at least if the exit polls are any indication.
Roughly 6 in 10 South Carolina Democratic primary voters said Bill Clinton’s campaigning was important in how they ultimately decided to vote, and of those voters, 48 percent went for Barack Obama while only 37 percent went for Hillary Clinton. Fourteen percent of those voters voted for John Edwards
Meanwhile, the exit polls also indicate Obama easily beat Clinton among those voters who decided in the last three days — when news reports heavily covered the former president’s heightened criticisms of Obama. Twenty percent of South Carolina Democrats made their decision in the last three days and 51 percent of them chose Obama, while only 21 percent picked Clinton.
In fairness, though, the press is also playing this as a race story.
ABC’s Jennifer Parker leads her report thusly:
Sen. Barack Obama, vying to become the nation’s first black president, has won the South Carolina primary today, boosted by a record turnout of African-American voters.
Her colleagues, Gary Langer and Brian Hartman, have a companion analysis piece entitled, “Black Voters Lift Obama to S.C. Victory; Obama Showing Among White Voters in S.C. Indicates Uphill Battle Ahead.”
A vast wave of support from African-Americans lifted Barack Obama to victory in South Carolina’s Democratic primary. But his showing among white voters suggests an uphill battle in those upcoming primaries where black voters may play less of a role.
Blacks accounted for a majority of voters in South Carolina, 55 percent — the highest turnout among African-Americans in any Democratic presidential primary for which data are available. And a huge proportion of them, 78 percent, supported Obama, compared with 19 percent for Hillary Clinton and just 2 percent for John Edwards.
And how’s this for buying into the Clintons’ framing:
Obama’s showing among blacks echoed Jesse Jackson’s victory in the 1984 and 1988 South Carolina primaries, and also Obama’s result in this year’s Nevada caucuses, where he won 83 percent of African-Americans. At the same time, Obama also won young, nonblack voters in South Carolina, with 52 percent support from those under age 30, although they accounted for just 5 percent of all voters.
Jackson was a civil rights candidate running on black themes; that’s just not the case with Obama, who’s running a mainstream, mass appeal campaign. Still, this much is fair:
Much in the way religion has been a dividing factor in the Republican contest, with sharp divisions between evangelical and nonevangelical voters, so now is race in the Democratic presidential primaries.
AP’s David Espo and Charles Babington play the story more traditionally but still include a racial reference in their lede:
Barack Obama routed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the racially charged South Carolina primary Saturday night, regaining campaign momentum in the prelude to a Feb. 5 coast-to-coast competition for more than 1,600 Democratic National Convention delegates.
TIME’s Karen Tumulty weighs in with the alliterative headline, “Obama’s Rout Rejiggers the Race.”
Obama’s impressive win meant all the more given the nature of politics in South Carolina, a state whose history is fraught with race and class. Some observers wondered if the state’s voters were becoming more racially polarized in the final days before the primary. That speculation was fueled by one late McClatchy/MSNBC survey that suggested Obama could expect to receive no more than 10% of the white vote, half of what the same poll had shown only a week before. But Obama instead won about a quarter of the white vote overall, and around half of young white voters, on his way to a commanding 55% of the total vote (Clinton finished second with roughly 27% and Edwards came in third with 18%). The excitement around Obama’s candidacy pushed turnout to record levels – a kind of surge, says Obama strategist Cornell Belcher, that “is something only Barack Obama is capable of bringing to the table.”
Still, the sobering reality for the Obama campaign is that Clinton’s massive organization will present a formidable challenge in the 20-plus states that will be voting on February 5. Clinton, knowing that bad news was coming, didn’t even hold a final rally for her supporters in South Carolina; shortly after the polls closed, her campaign plane was headed for Tennessee. She issued a terse written statement noting that she had called Obama to “wish him well,” and adding, “We now turn our attention to the millions of Americans who will make their voices heard in Florida and the twenty-two states as well as American Samoa who will vote on February 5th.” Bill Clinton, at a rally in Missouri, added: “Now we go to February 5, when millions of Americans finally get in the act.”
One outlier here is WaPo, whose A01 story by Dan Balz, Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray focuses almost entirely on the horse race.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois won the South Carolina primary in a landslide Saturday, attracting a biracial coalition that gave his candidacy a much-needed boost as the Democratic presidential race moves toward a 22-state showdown on Feb. 5.
Jay Cost looks at the racial breakdowns in the contests up to now and assesses it thusly:
Clinton has done well among Hispanics. Obama has done well among African Americans. Depending on where and when, white voters vary their support. How will that play out on Super Tuesday? We can get a sense from the following table, which reviews the states on Super Tuesday, their pledged delegates, and the percentage of their residents who are white, African American, and Hispanic:
So, if the contest continues to break down along racial lines, Obama can’t win. I continue to believe — or perhaps merely hope — that something other than race is driving the contest, though.
Interestingly, Caroline Kennedy is saying Obama would be “A President Like My Father” — and given space in the NYT op-ed section to do it:
OVER the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.
My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.
Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.
If the nomination is decided on the basis of inspiration, Obama will certainly win; Hillary simply lacks her husband’s charm and charisma — then again, Bill’s not exactly coming across as charming in his attack dog role, either. My guess, though, is that it’ll still come down to organization, experience, and Establishment support. Which means Clinton surges ahead for good next week in Florida and then takes the lion’s share of the Super Tuesday states.
We’ll see whether she can repair the damage her scorched earth campaign tactics have done after that.