Song of the South
As I predicted on Friday, Sen. Barack Obama won the South Carolina Democratic primary in blowout fashion, besting Sen. Hillary Clinton by a 55% to 27% count, with former Sen. John Edwards once again pulling up the rear with 18%. He did it on the backs of a record turnout that exceeded even the GOP primary a week earlier. Remember, this is the reddest of states. Obama capitalized on the predominance of African-American voters in this first southern primary, beating Clinton 4-to-1 among black voters and also captured 25% of white voters who otherwise split between Clinton and Edwards.
The impact of Obama's win cements him as a contender for the nomination arguably even with Clinton as the campaign turns to the Feb. 5 primaries on Tsunami Tuesday a mere eight days away. It forces the Clinton's to second-guess Bill's role in the campaign. Exit polls showed his attack dog antics played an important role in late decisions among voters who trended away from the NY senator. Look for him to return to positively touting his wife's record without lambasting the junior senator from IL.
The victory and Clinton's antics also opened the door to Camelot for Obama who received an editorial endorsement from JFK's daughter Caroline yesterday. Sen. Ted Kennedy came on board today with a ringing endorsement at American University and a vow to campaign vigorously for Obama throughout the West and Northeast in the coming days. The impact of these endorsements remains to be seen, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have the most prominent name in Democratic Party politics in your corner as Obama takes on the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.
The Democrats do face off again tomorrow in Florida, but they have pledged not to campaign there on account of the state being stripped of delegates for moving their primary before the Feb. 5 threshold. Hillary Clinton holds an expansive lead there in the polls, and is expected to tout her victory tomorrow evening in Florida as the first big state affirmation of any Democratic candidacy. The reality is that the race now moves to national channels as Clinton and Obama calculate separate battle plans of how to accumulate delegates. Momentum is key here, and for the moment, regardless of what happens in Florida, it's back on Obama's side.
The GOP standoff in the Sunshine State is of greater consequence. A pitched battle between former Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain has ensued, with former favorite Mayor Rudy Giuliani falling to the wayside and former Gov. Mike Huckabee running on fumes as a distant afterthought. The GOP stripped the state of half its delegates, leaving 57 for the taking in a contest restricted to Republicans only. This seemingly favors Romney as McCain's wins can be attributed largely to support from independents. Mitt's emphasis on his reputation as an economic turn-around agent has resonated here, and he has again spent large sums of money creating an elaborate turnout operation for tomorrow. Depending on the poll you consult, Romney or McCain have the lead, most within the margin of error.
McCain, on the other hand, is celebrating the endorsements of Sen. Mel Martinez on Friday and popular Gov. Charlie Crist on Saturday, not to mention his continued accumulation of newspaper endorsements in Florida and across the country (Giuliani went so far as to tout the fact that he was spurned by all of the "liberal" newspapers). McCain is hopeful that the Cuban-American population (10% of the GOP electorate) will come on board as a result of the Martinez nod, and that his national security credentials resonate with the large military population (active and veterans) in the state.
As of this weekend, I was predicting that Romney would eclipse McCain narrowly in the Sunshine State and move into Feb. 5 with the much-desired momentum, but the Crist endorsement brings this race back to at least toss-up status and perhaps even a McCain victory. The outcome is also dependent upon how far Giuliani falls as his moderate conservative message and emphasis on national security seems to cross over most with McCain supporters. Rudy was also expected to perform well with the Cuban-American community.
Another variable is the wave of early voters who have already made their decisions. The Giuliani camp wisely placed a great deal of emphasis on this, as his campaign has fallen on tough times on the heels of a string of early defeats. Nearly 1 million Floridians have already marked and sealed their ballots, so late-breaking polls may fail to capture these early tendencies. I'll save my analysis of what a distant third place finish means for Giuliani, but you can imagine that it appears as if we're nearing the home stretch with what looks like a two-horse race, and Rudy isn't even on the lead lap.
Check back here on Wednesday for a wrap of tomorrow's Florida results and a look in the crystal ball for what lies ahead with Tsunami Tuesday approaching at a deliberate speed. Nathan and I will record another podcast that day (check out our last several here), and I'll announce the release of a Freedom Museum report on the 2008 election.