Illinois Senator Barack Obama won the South Carolina Democratic primary with more votes than his two rivals combined. This was a much-needed win for the African-American candidate and polling results show he had overwhelming support from black voters, but as VOA's Greg Flakus reports, Obama says he is seeking support from all voters, not just those who share his ancestry.
Coming before supporters at a Columbia hotel, Barack Obama said his campaign would continue to seek votes from all Americans of every race, ethnic group and religion. He said the victory here, along with his victory in Iowa and his strong showings in New Hampshire and Nevada, had put his campaign on a strong course to the nomination.
"After four great contests in every corner of this country, we have the most votes, the most delegates and the most diverse coalition of Americans that we have seen in a long, long time," he said.
Exit polls indicate that Obama won overwhelmingly among black voters, as had been expected, but he also won a much larger percentage of white votes than public opinion surveys had predicted. Race became a factor in the South Carolina contest after Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, made attacks on Obama that troubled some blacks. One prominent black South Carolina Democrat even told the former president publicly that he should tone down his rhetoric.
Some Obama supporters worried that a lopsided win in South Carolina that was based almost entirely on the black vote would hurt their candidate's chances going forward into other states where whites, Latinos and others might view him as a black candidate, not a candidate who transcends race, the image he had started with in winning the caucuses in Iowa, a state that is more than 90 percent white.
In his victory speech, Obama rejected what he called the assumption that the people of the United States are divided into rigid categories and that they cannot be brought together.
"The assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor and that the poor do not vote, the assumption that African Americans cannot support a white candidate and whites can't support the African American candidate, that blacks and Latinos cannot come together," he said. "We are here tonight to say that is not the America we believe in."
Hillary Clinton left South Carolina after initial vote counts were indicating Obama had won. Speaking to supporters in Nashville, Tennessee, she offered only a brief comment about the Obama victory.
"I want to congratulate Senator Obama tonight and I also want to thank the people of South Carolina for welcoming us into their homes and their communities," she said. 'I want to tell you how excited I am that now the eyes of the country turn to Tennessee and the other states that will be voting on February 5th."
Twenty-two states hold contests on February 5 in what is called Super Tuesday. Clinton has strong organizations in many of the large states that will be at play, including California and New York, but the Obama victory in South Carolina could enhance his stature in some of those states and propel his campaign forward.
Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards came in third in South Carolina, the state of his birth, but after he congratulated Obama on his win, Edwards spoke of carrying on to the upcoming primaries.
Given his lack of a victory in any contest so far, some analysts had thought he might drop out, but others say he may have a strategy of accumulating delegates so that he will have leverage at the Democratic convention. Edwards, however, denies this, saying he continues to see opportunities for victory in coming primaries.