Barack Obama dominated the South Carolina primary on Saturday, drawing more than double the votes of his rivals. He won by a staggering 28 points -- the widest victory of any presidential candidate in either party this year.
The decisive win reflects both a resurgence of support for Obama, who trailed in state polls just last month, and some voters' rejection of the Clinton Campaign's recent spate of harsh and misleading attacks, which were widely condemned by party leaders. Voters who made their decision in the past three days, a period when President Clinton dominated media coverage by attacking Obama and stoking racial issues, broke for Obama by 30 points. Both campaigns also upset voters: 56 percent said Obama attacked Clinton unfairly, while 70 percent said Clinton's attacks were unfair, (according to exit polls).
In his victory speech, Obama promised to "fundamentally change the status quo in Washington," and called on the voters and other candidates to take the high road with him. "As contentious as this campaign may get, we have to remember that this is a contest for the Democratic nomination, and that all of us share an abiding desire to end the disastrous policies of the current administration," he said, in a respectful nod to Clinton and Edwards. He also pleaded with Americans to reject efforts to divide the nation by race or religion, and to rebuff tactics that use "religion as a wedge" or "patriotism as a bludgeon." The Clinton Campaign, however, shows no signs of backing down from its racial and character attacks on Obama.
An AP article after the victory reiterated the claim by Clinton strategists that Obama has been branded "the black candidate" - a supposedly negative development that "could hurt him" as the campaign continues. This "black candidate" strategy was advanced by a "top adviser" to Clinton in another article this weekend, concluding that recent attacks have "marginalize[d] Obama as 'The Black Candidate.'" And one more top adviser to Hillary, former President Bill Clinton, flatly claimed that Obama is "getting votes" because of his race, leaving Hillary with no chance to win South Carolina. The strategy turns on the unstated premise that Hillary will get votes for her race, too, and a lot more of them are available on Super Tuesday.
Pundits and writers were quick to conclude that the Clintons' strategy backfired on Saturday night. But it has not even been tested yet. The state with the largest black primary electorate was not the target -- it was the weapon. And the exit polls say "three-quarters of whites split their votes between the two white candidates." That means the Clintons could win by reproducing those numbers in states with different turnout demographics. It's the kind of divisive, cynical politics that could make one oppose Hillary Clinton -- even if you're not backing the "black candidate."