Obama wins key South Carolina vote

Obama wins key South Carolina vote
# 27 January 2008 10:14 (UTC +04:00)
The vote marked a second key victory for Obama and evened the score with Clinton, who has also won two key state primaries ahead of a blitz of nearly two dozen nationwide contests on February 5.
The charismatic Illinois senator, who beat the former first lady 55.4 to 26.5 percent, lashed out at Clinton in his victory speech, painting himself as an agent of change and her as a divisive voice of the status quo.
"There are real differences between the candidates. We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House. We are looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington," Obama said as supporters chanted "We want change," and "Yes, we can!"
"It’s a status quo that extends beyond a particular party, and that status quo is fighting back with everything its got, with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face."
Even though his win came largely from black voters, 81 percent of whom picked Obama while 17 percent chose Clinton, Obama sought to downplay the racial divide.
"It is not about black versus white. This election is about the past versus the future," he said.
Clinton had grabbed the momentum with successive victories in New Hampshire and Nevada. The New York senator acknowledged her defeat in South Carolina and vowed to take her fight to become the first woman US president nationwide.
"I have called Senator Obama to congratulate him and wish him well," said a statement issued by the former first lady’s campaign.
"We now turn our attention to the millions of Americans who will make their voices heard in Florida and the 22 states as well as American Samoa who will vote on February 5."
The state primaries serve to nominate a sole candidate in both the Democratic and Republican parties in the campaign to replace President George W. Bush, whose White House term ends in 2009.
Former senator John Edwards came in a disappointing third with 18 percent of the vote in his native state, but promised he would stay in the race.
"If you are one of the millions of Americans who have yet to cast your vote in this Democratic process, beginning on February 5th and moving beyond, your voice will be heard and we will be there with you every single step of the way," he said.
Exit polls showed the vote was divided along racial and gender lines, in a state where African-Americans make up half the Democratic electorate.
Obama won 24 percent of the white vote, according to network exit poll results. Edwards won 39 percent of the white vote, while Clinton took 36 percent.
Fifty-three percent of South Carolina’s Democrats put a premium on a candidate’s ability to bring about change, a central theme in Obama’s campaign.
Only 15 percent put a premium on experience, the cornerstone of Clinton’s pitch, and six percent said they wanted someone who could get elected in November.
Local officials said early indications were that turnout was heavy, the latest sign of soaring enthusiasm for the 2008 field among Democratic voters. An ABC exit poll said more than half of the voters were black.
Obama picked up a high-profile endorsement from Caroline Kennedy, the last living child of the late former president John F. Kennedy, whose young age and platform of change have drawn comparisons to Obama.
"We need a change in the leadership of this country -- just as we did in 1960," she wrote in a New York Times editorial titled: "A President Like My Father."
A bruising week of campaigning in South Carolina featured both camps accusing the other of playing racial politics, and sparked a debate about former president Bill Clinton’s fiery interventions on behalf of his wife.
Analysts said however that Obama may not get too much of a momentum "bounce" heading into February 5.
"For Obama, a win in South Carolina is the equivalent of holding serve," said University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala.
Polls showed Clinton with sizeable leads in delegate-rich states such as California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Together these states account for 970 delegates, nearly half the total at stake on February 5 and a quarter of the total to be seated at the party’s August nominating convention in Denver.
But Democratic Party rules provide for proportional allocation of delegates in each state so it is conceivable that Clinton and Obama could be locked in a tight delegate fight that could spill over into the convention, where 2,025 delegates are needed for the nomination. AFP /APA/