Obama wins South Carolina Democratic primary

Updated: 2008-01-27 08:36

COLUMBIA, South Carolina -- Barack Obama routed Hillary Rodham Clinton in a racially-charged South Carolina primary, regaining much-needed campaign momentum with the help of black voters in the prelude to next month's coast-to-coast presidential nomination competition in which nearly half the U.S. states will vote.

US Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama speaks during his final rally in Columbia, South Carolina, January 25, 2008. Obama won a vital contest in South Carolina on Saturday in his quest for the US Democratic presidential nomination. [Agencies]

Former Sen. John Edwards, who has yet to win any of the early state contests, was running third, a sharp setback in his native state where he triumphed in his 2004 vice presidential campaign.

The Associated Press made its call based on surveys of voters as they left the polls Saturday.

Landslide margins among black voters fueled Obama to his win, allowing him to overcome the edge that Clinton and Edwards had among whites in the first Southern state where the Democrats competed.

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South Carolina's Democratic race was particularly significant for Obama, who is aiming to become the U.S.'s first black president, because it was the first contest in which blacks were expected to factor large in the outcome, Blacks accounted for about half of the voters, according to polling place interviews, and four out of five supported Obama. Black women turned out in particularly large numbers. Obama, the first-term Illinois senator, got a quarter of the white vote while Clinton and Edwards split the rest.

The victory was Obama's first since he won the kick-off Iowa caucuses on January 3. Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, scored an upset in the New Hampshire primary a few days later. They split the Nevada caucuses, she winning the turnout race, he gaining a one-delegate margin. In a historic race, she hopes to become the first woman to occupy the White House, and Obama is the strongest black contender in history.

The vote Saturday also marked the end of the first phase of the campaign for the presidential nomination, a series of single-state contests that winnowed the field and conferred co-front-runner status on Clinton and Obama, but had relatively few delegates at stake. That all changes on February 5, when 22 of the 50 states hold contests in a virtual nationwide primary.

The runup to South Carolina was marked by a week of mud-slinging on the part of Clinton and Obama, with the two candidates exchanging pointed jabs and accusations as Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton weighed in on his wife's behalf. That prompted Obama to complain that he felt he was running against two Clintons.

The loss was not entirely unexpected for Clinton. Her husband down-played the likelihood of her carrying a state where Obama would carry the support of blacks. With her husband campaigning on her behalf, Clinton focused her sights on other major races -- a strategy she continued Saturday by flying to Tennessee while Obama and Edwards arranged to speak in South Carolina to supporters after the polls closed.

The February 5 races offer more than 1,600 convention delegates while a total of 2,025 delegates are needed to secure the Democratic nomination. South Carolina offers 45.

For the Republicans, one of the last contests before the so-called "Mega Tuesday" primaries and caucuses is Tuesday's primary in Florida, where Mitt Romney and John McCain were leading in polls.

In South Carolina, half the Democratic voters said the economy was the most important issue in the race. About one quarter picked health care. And only one in five said it was the war in Iraq, underscoring the extent to which the once-dominant conflict has faded in the face of recession fears.

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