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Tuesday, January 29, 2008.

By Keith Boykin

To understand the scope of Barack Obama's big victory in South Carolina on Saturday, consider this. Obama not only defeated Hillary Clinton by a 2-1 margin, he also won more votes in the South Carolina primary than Republican frontrunners John McCain and Mike Huckabee combined.


Yes, that is not a misprint.


Democratic turnout was incredibly strong in this Republican state, indicating that the Democrats are much more excited about the race and their candidates than the Republicans were a week before. A record 530,000 Democrats voted Saturday, nearly 100,000 more than in last week's Republican primary.


Obama's numbers in this red state also suggested that he might be able to assemble a national multiracial coalition in the fall general election campaign that could compete and win in some southern states traditionally won by Republicans. About as many South Carolina white men voted for Obama as for Clinton, and about 70 percent of white voters said they would be satisfied if Obama won the Democratic nomination, according to exit polls reported in the New York Times today.


The news also spelled trouble for Clinton, whose campaign was widely criticized by fellow Democrats for negative attacks. "If the South Carolina result buoyed the Obama team, it left Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign facing a new set of questions," the New York Times reported.


"Her advisers’ steady attacks on Mr. Obama appeared to prove fruitless, if not counterproductive, and the attack-dog role of former President Bill Clinton seemed to have backfired."


Perhaps as a result of the negative campaigning and their enthusiasm for a viable African American candidate, black voters in South Carolina abandoned the Clintons after years of loyalty. Even black women, a targeted constituency by both campaigns, voted overwhelmingly for Obama.


 "More than half of black voters in the state said the country was definitely ready for a black president, while only about a quarter of white voters reached the same conclusion," the Times reported. That's a dramatic turnaround from other polls that had shown that blacks were less likely than whites to believe America was ready for a black president.


It was a stunning victory for Obama that exceeded all expectations. With Clinton and Obama now tied with two wins each, the battle turns to the delegate count and the Super Tuesday election on February 5.


If Hillary Clinton hoped to surprise or startle Obama in South Carolina, she failed. If Obama hoped to prove himself in that state, he more than succeeded.


Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He appears regularly on CNN and several major American television networks. He blogs at Keithboykin.com


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