After South Carolina: Can Obama capture a wider swath of voters?
The black vote was key to his decisive win Saturday. To be competitive in the Feb. 5 sweepstakes, he'll need a broader coalition of independents, young people, and affluent whites, analysts say.
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According to surveys of voters exiting the polls, Obama beat Clinton among both men and women; among voters in every age group except those over 65; and among nonblack voters under 30.Skip to next paragraph
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Edwards placed third overall, at 18 percent, a damaging setback in his native state. "I think the coffin door will be shut on him in South Carolina," says Prof. Thomas Whalen of Boston University, author of "A Higher Purpose: Profiles in Presidential Courage." "That's his backyard, and if he can't win there, forget it."
Mr. Edwards, who has yet to win a primary, vowed Saturday night to stay in the race.
Obama's victory showed that the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 were not a fluke.
But Obama could be hurt if opponents – or the news media – portray South Carolina as a demographic quirk, analysts say. Critics accused former President Bill Clinton of playing racial politics at a recent campaign stop for his wife there, when he said voters were picking candidates on "race or gender" and "that's why people tell me Hillary doesn't have a chance of winning here."
"Obama went into South Carolina as a candidate speaking to independents, to whites, speaking to America across the divides – that was kind of his magic," says Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. But if the results are perceived as racially polarized, Dr. Jacobs says, "it could well be that South Carolina is a race that really winds up narrowing a very broadly appealing campaign."
But others say Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, drew enough of the white vote in a conservative Southern state to defuse those questions.
Recent shift in the black vote
Of greater significance ahead of Super Tuesday, say analysts, was the evidence Saturday of Obama's deep support among African-Americans. Blacks are a key Democratic constituency, accounting for roughly 1 in 5 primary-goers nationally. Until the climb in Obama's poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire in December, most were supporters of Clinton.
"When Obama started this campaign, African-Americans were considered to be more in Hillary's camp than in his camp," says David Bositis, a senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C., group with a focus on black issues. With a decisive victory in South Carolina, "he can in effect, say, 'OK, I've made the case with African-Americans. Now it's time for me to concentrate on these other voting groups.' "
His tallest hurdle, say analysts, will be the traditional Democrats with whom Clinton enjoys a large advantage. "He needs to run better among older voters, more blue-collar and middle-class voters, and more downscale white voters," says Philip Klinkner, a government professor at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. "That's where he's losing."
Clinton leads in national polls of Democratic voters. But if Feb. 5 fails to crown a nominee, a state-by-state war of attrition for delegates could grind on into the spring, say political observers.
"We've now moved into the phase where it's not really as much about momentum as it is the delegate count," says Jacobs. "If in 1992, the phrase was, 'It's the economy, stupid,' it's now, 'It's the delegates, stupid.' "