Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton yesterday steeled themselves for a long war for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination after Obama’s landslide victory in South Carolina left the contest with no clear frontrunner. His sweep of the first southern primary virtually guarantees that he and Clinton will fight on beyond Super Tuesday on February 5 – when half of the delegates to the summer’s Democratic convention will be decided – to a string of individual state primaries through the spring.
"Now it’s a delegate race," Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Obama told reporters. "This isn’t going to be judged on, ‘I won six states, you won this amount of states’."
The scale of Obama’s win in South Carolina on Saturday – where he took 55% of the vote in a three-way race – could help him catch up with Clinton, who is leading in the national opinion polls ahead of Super Tuesday.
Obama’s victory also raises doubts about the effectiveness of Bill Clinton’s aggressive campaigning for his wife.
Once again South Carolina demonstrated Obama’s ability to bring out record numbers of young people and African Americans. He won twice as many votes as Clinton, thanks to overwhelming support from African American voters who made up 55% of the record turnout of about 500,000 – up from 289,000 in 2004.
Final results gave Clinton 27% of the vote, while John Edwards came in third with 18%. He has yet to win a single state primary, but pledged to stay in the race until at least Super Tuesday.
Obama attempted to build on his commanding victory yesterday, moving on to two other states with large African American populations, Georgia and Alabama.
Clinton left the south behind. After attending church services in Memphis, she headed back north to stave off challenges to her home turf in New York. She was scheduled to hold a town hall meeting in Connecticut this morning. She also reaffirmed that her husband, who led the effort to box in Obama as an African American candidate, would remain an important factor, despite evidence that he hurt her campaign in South Carolina.
Exit polls indicated that Bill Clinton’s campaigning made a difference to about 60% of Democratic primary voters, mainly sending voters in the direction of Obama. Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, admitted that going negative had angered voters and hurt the campaign. "There was such a mean overtone to it," he told Fox television yesterday. "In South Carolina, it hurt Senator Clinton more than it hurt Senator Obama."