Barack Obama scored a lopsided victory over Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina primary on Saturday after a bruising week of campaigning tinged with questions about race and the role of former President Bill Clinton in the process.
Early returns showed Obama outpacing Clinton 2-1, with John Edwards in third.
After a loss in New Hampshire and Nevada, Obama’s campaign gets a much-needed dose of momentum as the campaign heads into Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, when New York, California and 20 other states go to the polls.
Hillary Clinton issued a statement conceding the primary race to Obama.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is an interesting race,” Bill Clinton said in a campaign appearance on Saturday night, adding, “He won fair and square.”
Throughout the week leading up to the primary, both campaigns seemed to tangle on the issue of whether race was playing a polarizing role in the campaign. Obama and Bill Clinton, campaigning as a surrogate for his wife throughout the week, blamed the media for stoking such divisions.
Exit polls showed that Obama took a lopsided number of African-American voters (80%) and a majority of younger voters. He trailed in the number of white voters — 24% to Clinton’s 36% and Edwards’ 39% — but Obama’s figure was more than expected. One poll in recent days showed him capturing just 10% of the white vote. He also won almost an equal number of white male voters as Clinton.
The pitched nomination battle between Obama and Clinton took a twist this week with the presence of Bill Clinton, who drew charges that some of his criticisms of Obama were unfair and that the Illinois senator was facing a tag team of “good cop, bad cop.” Hillary Clinton left much of the campaigning to her husband, and instead visited other states that will go to the polls on Super Tuesday on Feb. 5. Obama himself said at a particularly acrimonious debate on Monday night, “I can’t tell who I’m running against at times.”
CNN exit polling showed that 6 in 10 voters said Bill Clinton’s campaigning was important in their decision, with 47% of those voting for Obama and 38% for Clinton.
The vote also raises questions about the effectiveness of going on the attack, as the campaigning turned increasingly acrimonious in TV ads and in a rancorous debate on Monday night. Although the rhetoric was tamped down by the end of the week, it was enough to have some Democrats worried about party unity come November.
According to MSNBC exit polls, Clinton’s attacks on Obama may have hurt her campaign more than they helped. More people thought that Clinton unfairly attacked Obama — 70%— compared to 56% of the other way around. Some 74% of African-Americans thought that Clinton attacked Obama unfairly, and 68% of white voters thought so.
The campaigns did have a show business element: Kerry Washington, Chris Tucker and Usher campaigned for Obama, and Danny Glover and “Dukes of Hazzard” star and congressman Ben Jones hit the trail for Edwards.
But perhaps the most helpful celebrity for Obama was Oprah Winfrey, whose appearance with him on Dec. 11 drew more than 29,000. It proved an asset for the campaign in reaching voters, as some 68% who attended had never communicated with the campaign before.