Last night, Barack Obama won the South Carolina Democratic Primary with 55% of the vote, doubling second place finisher Hillary Clinton’s 27% share of the vote. John Edwards came in third with a disappointing 18% of the vote. Nobody should have expected Obama not to win South Carolina, but a victory of almost 30 points was not widely anticipated. He needed a big victory to gain some momentum going into Super Tuesday (February 5th), and he certainly got that last night.
While Clinton still seems to be the favorite candidate of the Establishment, the numbers tell a different story. Last night’s victory only increases Obama’s lead in total delegates. While Clinton and Obama have each won two states, Obama won the two biggest contests (Iowa and South Carolina). Also, Obama won his two contests by margins of 38-30 (Iowa) and 55-27 (South Carolina). Clinton, on the other hand, has only won 39-37 (New Hampshire) and 51-45 (Nevada). Last night’s victory also demonstrates that Obama can perform well in a variety of arenas. While race clearly played a significant role in South Carolina, we should remember that Obama also won a large victory in Iowa, where racial demographics should not play out in his favor. This, coupled with his surprising cross-over appeal, indicates that Obama would likely be the strongest candidate the Democrats could put forth in the general election. And, more importantly, he has the potential to be a genuine uniter and someone who can move the nation forward on a variety of fronts.
Obama wasn’t the only winner last night, though. Democrats cast about 530,000 votes last night. Compare that to the roughly 440,000 votes cast by Republicans in South Carolina last week. Democratic turnout trumping Republican turnout has been the case across the nation this year, but it’s especially striking to see such a large Democratic showing in such a red state. In fact, in addition to doubling Clinton’s vote count last night, Obama’s 295,091 votes doubled John McCain’s 147,283–and McCain was the winner of the Republican Primary! This means that last night’s Democratic Primary is second in South Carolina primary voter turnout history only to the 2000 Republican Primary.
There is excitement in the air this year, and it’s translating into enormous voter turnout on the Democratic side. Whoever wins the Democratic Primary this year–whether it’s Clinton or Obama–will go into the general election with quite a mandate.