According to the Associated Press news wire, 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.
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.
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.
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 choice in this election is not about regions or religions or genders," Obama said at a boisterous victory rally. "It's not about rich versus poor, young versus old and it's not about black versus white. It's about the past versus the future."
An exultant Obama said his overwhelming win in South Carolina disproved notions that Democratic voters are deeply divided along racial lines.
"We have the most votes, the most delegates, and the most diverse coalition of Americans we've seen in a long, long time," Obama said. "You can see it in the faces here tonight. They are young and old; rich and poor. They are black and white; Latino, Asian and Native American."
The audience chanted "Yes we can" as Obama continued on with his victory speech in a primary that shattered turnout records.
The victory was Obama's first since he won the kickoff Iowa caucuses on Jan. 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 an historic race, she hopes to become the first woman to occupy the White House, and Obama is the strongest black contender in history.
'They wanted something different'
The South Carolina primary marked the end of the first phase of the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, a series of single-state contests that winnowed the field, conferred co-front-runner status on Clinton and Obama but had relatively few delegates at stake.
That all changes in 10 days' time, when New York, Illinois and California are among the 15 states holding primaries in a virtual nationwide primary. Another seven states and American Samoa will hold Democratic caucuses on the same day.
"South Carolina voters rejected the politics of the past and they wanted something different," said Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Obama.
Clinton issued a statement saying she had called Obama to congratulate him on his victory. She quickly turned her focus to the primaries ahead. "For those who have lost their job or their home or their health care, I will focus on the solutions needed to move this country forward," she said.
Democrats clash in South Carolina
All three contenders campaigned in South Carolina on primary day, but only Obama and Edwards arranged to speak to supporters after the polls closed. Clinton decided to fly to Tennessee, one of the Feb. 5 states, leaving as the polls were closing.
After playing a muted role in the earlier contests, the issue of race dominated an incendiary week that included a shift in strategy for Obama, a remarkably bitter debate and fresh scrutiny of the former president's role in his wife's campaign.
Each side accused the other of playing the race card, sparking a controversy that frequently involved Bill Clinton.
"They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender. That's why people tell me Hillary doesn't have a chance of winning here," former President Clinton said at one stop as he campaigned for his wife, strongly suggesting that blacks would not support a white alternative to Obama.