7:50 pm PST — Game Day Close-Out
Well, as yesterday and today unfolded, I expected Barack Obama to win a significant victory in South Carolina. But wondered if his share of the white vote — he has done extremely well with white voters in the first three contests, but South Carolina presented a different profile of voter — would be very small. And expected his margin of victory to be in the low single digits.
In the event, of course, he has beaten Hillary Clinton by better than 2 to 1. In an election with a record turnout, much higher than last Saturday’s Republican primary turnout in this usually Republican state. Actually, Obama won more votes than John McCain and Mike Huckabee, the top two Republicans in South Carolina, combined.
Obama’s support among white voters had dropped to 10% in late week tracking polls. But he ended up with a quarter of the white vote, and four-fifths of the black vote.
After another week of bruising attacks, much of it again generated by the very popular former president of the United States, this time it was Obama who surged at the end.
The final vote is this: Obama 55.4%, Clinton 26.5%, and John Edwards 17.6%. Edwards is staying in the race. It is almost certain that had he dropped out after losing Iowa, his must-win state, that Obama would have won New Hampshire no matter what stratagems Bill and Hillary Clinton came up with for her late minute surge. But it may well be that Edwards, going forward, has enough strength with working class white male voters to, in essence, help Obama.
Bill Clinton probably knows this. He spent the past week working South Carolina not only to engage Obama as his wife’s chief attack dog, but also to blunt Edwards. And this is why the Clinton campaign hit Edwards late with robocalls charging him with voting for free trade agreements and being an operator with a hedge fund. Which, of course, is true of them as well. Especially since Clinton himself pushed through NAFTA.
Bill Clinton may be responsible for Hillary’s wins in New Hampshire and Nevada. But in South Carolina, most voters said that his behavior was critical to their choice. And that proved to be a big negative.
Obama gave another of his excellent speeches, proclaiming: “The choice in this election is not about regions or religions or genders. 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. … We are up against conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as president comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to the White House. But we know that real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose – a higher purpose.”
For their parts, the Clintons put out a brief, perfunctory statement of congratulations, barely mentioning South Carolina, dwelling as much on the unsanctioned Florida primary coming up — which Clinton and all the candidates agreed to ignore, per party rules — as on her landslide loss today. Hillary declined to give a concession speech, and — having already left for Tennessee — barely mentioned today’s primary. Having congratulated Obama with a brief sentence, she continued with her stump speech at a town hall meeting.
And Bill Clinton? His take is that Jesse Jackson won the South Carolina primary. Twice. That was it.
Bill Clinton is an outstanding political talent, a master of putting together a flurry of tactical moves to eke out wins, covering hardball play with aw-shucks charm. He sought to frame — as was very clear with tonight’s comments — the Democratic race along racial lines. This was after claiming that Obama was a fan of Ronald Reagan — when, actually, Clinton himself spoke far more fulsomely about the Gipper — claimed that Obama really wasn’t against the Iraq War. After late last year claiming that he himself had been against the invasion, which was news to all.
Incidentally, Clinton’s comparison of Obama to Jesse Jackson was unprompted, apropos of nothing, answering an unrelated question.
Similarly, dabbling with Dr. Pavlov’s tools in the Republican primaries — where John McCain has a narrow lead in a Florida primary that really does count — he yesterday praised McCain highly, claiming that he and his wife are close friends who would run the friendliest campaign in American history.
Since McCain has been running around saying Hillary would “run up the white flag of surrender” in Iraq, that was, ah, an interesting take. Clearly Clinton was out to provide a frame for the Republican race, as well, that is favorable to his interests.
Yesterday, however, McCain picked up the endorsement of Florida Senator Mel Martinez, the former Bush Cabinet member and Republican national chairman who is the most prominent Cuban-American politician in the country. Today, he got the endorsement of Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, as he layed into Romney for earlier backing a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq.
Bill Clinton’s not the only politician who can create a frame, and use words as optics. He does have the advantage that others have not had; namely, the stature of having been president of the United States. And having had the opportunity to polish up his tarnished presidential image as, in my view, one of the premier global statesmen.
None of which is to count the Clintons out. More about that in the future.
4:28 pm PST — Big Obama Win — Backlash Bill?
Well, as anticipated, a big win for Barack Obama, with Hillary Clinton battling with John Edwards for second. A little over half the vote was African American. According to the media exit poll, Obama won the vote over Hillary Clinton, 81% to 17%. John Edwards got 1%..
Hillary also lost the white vote, which was won by Edwards, 39% to 36%. Obama got a respectable 24% of the white vote, up significantly from where he was a few days ago in tracking polling.
57% said that Bill Clinton’s activity was influential in their choice. Apparently, not favorably.
This explains why, as reported earlier today … Hillary left South Carolina to spend election night in Nashville, Tennesse. Which doesn’t vote for another 10 days. And why the Clinton campaign put out that extraordinary spin document, which I presented and deconstructed for you. And why the Clintons hit Edwards late for voting for free trade deals — which they actually supported — and taking Wall Street money.
More to say as this further develops.
3:19 pm PST — Early SC Exits
Here’s some preliminary data from the media exit poll.
It doesn’t include horse race numbers.
Given three choices, half the voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country – up from 38 percent in the only other competitive Democratic primary to date, in New Hampshire on Jan. 8. About a quarter picked health care, comparable to New Hampshire. Only about one in five picked Iraq, down from 27 percent in New Hampshire.
As in New Hampshire, three in four Barack Obama voters said the most important quality in a candidate is that he can bring about needed change. Four in 10 Hillary Rodham Clinton voters said their priority was that a candidate has the right experience while nearly three in 10 picked change. As usual, John Edwards scored highest on empathy – at least half his voters said it was most important that the candidate “cares about people like me.” Few voters said the candidate’s electability was their top priority.
Asked whether their candidate’s positions on issues or leadership and personal qualities were more important to their vote, six in 10 said issues.
Three in four voters said the country is ready to elect a black president and about as many said that about a woman. Somewhat more Clinton voters said the country is not ready to elect a black than Obama voters said the country wasn’t ready to elect a female president.
After the contentious Democratic debate Monday night, three in four Obama voters said Clinton had attacked Obama unfairly and slightly fewer than half accused their own candidate of attacking Clinton unfairly. Two-thirds of Clinton voters said Obama attacked her unfairly and nearly as many said she attacked him unfairly. Edwards voters were more likely than either of the other candidates’ supporters to say both Clinton and Obama attacked each other unfairly.
Roughly four out of five voters would be satisfied if Clinton or Obama wins the Democratic nomination. Slightly more Clinton voters would be dissatisfied with Obama than vice-versa. Slightly more Obama voters say Clinton would be more likely to be the eventual Democratic nominee than vice-versa.
1:19 pm PST — South Carolina Moods II
On the mid-afternoon mood in the Palmetto State …
Correspondent Anthony Palmer reports: “I was out in front of the Statehouse in Columbia and the Edwards/Clinton/Obama supporters were out in full force. Edwards seemed to have a lot of support, judging from the honks and cheers I was hearing as the cars drove by. The Obama supporters were mostly black, the Clinton supporters were mostly female, and the Edwards supporters seemed the most diverse.”
Says correspondent Jeff Shrewsworthy: “As far as turnout goes, I’ve got two direct reports — one from Columbia said more than 300 had voted in one downtown district by 3 p.m., which is about three times as many as voted in the entire primary in 2004. (When John Edwards defeated John Kerry for his sole primary win.)
“And the same kind of report from a friend in a rural county. They already had 200 voters at a rural district that barely got 100 in the last primary overall.”
Palmer asks: “Obviously, this is just a small sample of what’s going on, but could Edwards really edge Clinton out for second place? CNN and Fox and all the national networks in Columbia and some foreign media companies are too, so it looks like this election is generating a lot of attention.”
The eyes of the world come to many places in America every four years.
As to the question of Edwards. He had late closing potential in several tracking polls. But former President Bill Clinton, the most successful Southern politician of our time, spent the week in South Carolina not only to engage Barack Obama (and make mischief for Republican rival John McCain in Florida with yesterday’s framing comments to CNN), but also to block John Edwards. Who, ironically, was at one point something of a protege of Bill Clinton’s.
The Clinton campaign has been making robocalls to South Carolina voters hitting John Edwards for voting for free trade deals and for working for a hedge fund. Of course, Hillary also voted for free trade deals, and Bill Clinton pushed through NAFTA. And Hillary is one of the biggest recipients of hedge fund contributions around.
12:16 pm PST — Clinton Machine Spins Up
Here is a piece of near real-time spin doctoring from the Clinton machine. Which downplays today’s South Carolina primary and plays up Florida on Tuesday. Which, actually, be decision of the Democratic National Committee, and with all the presidential candidates taking a mutual pledge, is not a real primary.
I’ve interpolated some reality checks amidst the my-head-is-spinning text.
To: Interested Parties
From: Howard Wolfson, Communications Director
Re: South Carolina, Florida, and February 5
Date: January 26, 2008
The Obama campaign has been so confident of winning South Carolina that six months ago they flatly predicted victory in the Palmetto State.
Cornell Belcher, Senator Obama’s pollster, stated explicitly to the Politico on July 25, 2007, “We are going to outright win South Carolina.”
[REALITY CHECK: Hillary led almost all last year, frequently by large margins, and until a few weeks was neck and neck in South Carolina. She might be neck and neck again, as polls can be off. The Clinton campaign, however, obviously does not think so.]
And today, Senator Obama leads by 12, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls taken in South Carolina over the last 10 days.
[REALITY CHECK: It’s best not to contradict yourself in the same sentence. “As of today” means today. Maybe yesterday. It does not mean “the last 10 days.”
Despite Senator Obama’s large lead, Senator Clinton has campaigned across the Palmetto State, reaching out and asking for each and every vote. She has heard directly from South Carolinians about their concerns and their hopes for a stronger, more prosperous America.
Regardless of today’s outcome, the race quickly shifts to Florida, where hundreds of thousands of Democrats will turn out to vote on Tuesday.
[REALITY CHECK: “The race quickly shifts to Florida.” Not really. There is no race in Florida for the Democrats. Florida violated national Democratic Party rules by moving its primary up. All of the candidates pledged not to campaign in Florida. No campaigning, no race.]
Despite efforts by the Obama campaign to ignore Floridians, their voices will be heard loud and clear across the country, as the last state to vote before Super Tuesday on February 5th.
[REALITY CHECK: A few days ago, Wolfson accused the Obama campaign of, wait for it, violating the Democratic Party agreement not to campaign in Florida. The supposed violation? Obama bought time to run TV ads on national cable networks. Welcome to the world of up is down.]
This remains a delegate fight, with 1,681 delegates at stake on February 5th, and 2,025 needed to secure the nomination – and we are ahead in that fight.
As Senator Clinton has said from the beginning, we have built a national campaign with the resources to compete and win across the country.
Coming off of victories in Nevada, Michigan and New Hampshire, Senator Clinton has demonstrated the importance of focusing on achieving real solutions on the economy, health care and Iraq .
[REALITY CHECK: “Coming off of victories in Nevada, Michigan and New Hampshire …” Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Again, Wolfson, someone whose cycle, as you see, is perpetually stuck on spin, is attempting to rewrite history. Like Florida, Michigan was not a real Democratic primary. Like Florida, Michigan violated national Democratic Party rules by moving its primary up. All of the candidates pledged not to campaign in Florida. Like Florida, no delegates were awarded in Michigan. No campaigning, no race.]
As she campaigns throughout the United States over the coming weeks, Senator Clinton will continue to work hard for every vote, making sure that Americans know she will be a President who focuses on what matters most-making a difference in people’s lives.
[REALITY CHECK: There is nothing beyond the bounds of normal political spin in that sentence.]
11:30 am PST — South Carolina Moods
With South Carolina elections officials saying they expect a record turnout in today’s first-in-the-South Democratic presidential primary, correspondents are reporting in from the Palmetto State.
Says correspondent Anthony Palmer: “Well, the weather shouldn’t be holding any voters back like it may have during the Republican primary. It’s about 50 degrees and cloudy, but it doesn’t look like it will rain.
“A lot of black voters seem to be angry with the Clintons and are expressing more interest in voting for Obama. Of course, that would play into the possible strategy the Clintons have adopted in ceding the black vote to him for the sake of winning the white vote later on. But others are talking about supporting Edwards even though they like Obama because they want Edwards to beat Clinton. That would embarrass her. The bottom line is, the Clintons’ attacks and rhetoric are not going over well and are revealing a side of themselves that many had never seen before.”
Correspondent Jeff Shrewsbury notes: “It’s beautiful today in the upstate and throughout. A little rain in Charleston but otherwise, sunny and mild temps. Little turnout so far in Columbia, at least in most of the precincts I’ve heard from friends voting, but that’s not too unusual for a Saturday vote. I suspect by late afternoon there will be more traffic.”
10:17 am PST — Hillary Heads Out Of Town
Hillary Clinton, perhaps anticipating defeat in South Carolina today, is heading out of town. She’ll be in Tennessee tonight, rather than South Carolina, to celebrate her showing. The Volunteer State votes on Mega-Super Tuesday, February 5th.
While it’s not uncommon for presidential candidates to move on to the next contest on a primary election night, Hillary and Bill Clinton were both most assuredly in New Hampshire to celebrate her shocker, narrow victory in that primary two-and-a-half weeks ago. They did not expect to win there, and on election day, her people were wondering if they could spin a 5 to 7-point loss into a victory of sorts.
The Clintons have been playing an interesting game of expectations this week. After her big duke-a-roo of a debate Monday night in Myrtle Beach with Barack Obama, she flew to California for a big rally and to accept the endorsement of the United Farm Workers. She didn’t return to South Carolina until Thursday, when she gave a major economic address.
Meanwhile, however, the big dog himself, former President Bill Clinton was campaigning all along in South Carolina, sometimes with daughter Chelsea in tow.
Since it is actually the former president who is — or at least, has been — the most popular Democrat in the country, and his intervention was critical in Hillary’s narrow wins in New Hampshire and Nevada, that goes the other way on the expectations curve.
08:26 am PST — Game Day: South Carolina
Today is another big day in presidential politics, with the South Carolina Democratic primary, which I’ll be covering throughout the day with correspondents and contacts on the ground in the state — although today does not look as suspenseful, with last night’s tracking poll showing a solid lead for Barack Obama.
The new Zogby tracking poll for Reuters, conducted Thursday and Friday nights, shows Obama leading Hillary Clinton, 41% to 26%, with John Edwards at 19%. That’s consistent with most of the polls from yesterday, though some showed a closer race. Edwards has closed some on Clinton in the last few days, and is now tied with her among white voters.
Incidentally, the Zogby tracking poll for Reuters of Tuesday’s key Florida primary shows John McCain with a slight edge over Mitt Romney, 31% to 28%, as Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee fight it out for third place with 15% and 10%, respectively.
In South Carolina, Obama is leading in all regions, among left-wing, liberal, and moderate voters, and among men and women. Of course, this seeming dominance is possible because he appears to have consolidated the African American vote, which about half of the primary electorate in the Palmetto State. Among white voters, he runs third.
The weather is fine, and a big turnout is expected by state and party officials.
With former President Bill Clinton campaigning most of the week in the state, and at first Obama’s support among men dropped. That appears to have reversed. So the combative and mischievous ex-occupant of La Maison Blanche played another little game yesterday — telling a credulous CNN that Hillary and John McCain are best friends — which is obviously calculated to stir up conservative Republicans enough to cost McCain Florida. So perhaps his hopes for South Carolina have not been realized, and he’s looking at the next round of tearing it up.
Could Edwards actually catch Hillary? Possibly, but she’s back in the state now, too, and clearly has no intention of finishing third.
Could Clinton catch Obama? It doesn’t seem likely. If Obama’s support goes down at the actual polls, he may suffer from the expectations game, with Hillary doing better than expected. In that case, Obama’s win would come with a big discount. But another result is more likely.
It also may come with a cost. Clinton campaign maneuvers are succeeding in positioning Obama – who has a unique multi-racial appeal – as the black candidate. Obama has actually won huge numbers of white votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. In South Carolina, he’s running third among whites. This is because white Democrats there are more conservative, and because the vote there is becoming polarized along racial lines. As it is in the national poll discussed below.
The new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll (.pdf file) has John McCain opening up a lead nationally among Republicans over Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, with Rudy Giuliani trailing. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has a large lead over Barack Obama, with John Edwards way behind the leaders.
National polls have been largely meaningless to date, but now become important with the many contests of Super Tuesday now looming on the horizon.
On the Republican side, Giuliani’s poll meltdown is striking. His favorable rating has been cut in half since last spring.
On the Democratic side, what jumps out of the numbers is the increasing racial polarization of the race. Obama is now consolidating the black vote, but as that happens, Hillary’s lead among white voters is going up.
Here are the numbers. Republicans: John McCain 29%, Mike Huckabee 23%, Mitt Romney 20%, Rudy Giuliani 15%. (Fred Thompson’s support splintered, rather than go to Romney as some had prophesied.) Democrats: Hillary Clinton 47%, Barack Obama 32%, John Edwards 12%.
Here are a few more polls to ponder as South Carolinians go to the real polls. Yesterday’s Survey USA robopoll of the South Carolina Democratic primary gave a signficant edge to Barack Obama, with Hillary Clinton fending off John Edwards for second. Here are the South Carolina Democratic numbers. Obama 43%, Clinton 30%, Edwards 24%.
The same polling service’s tracking poll for Tuesday’s key Florida Republican primary gives a very slight edge to John McCain over Mitt Romney, with the fading Rudy Giuliani fighting it out with Mike Huckabee for third. Here are the Florida Republican numbers: McCain 30%, Romney 28%, Giuliani 18%, Huckabee 14%.
The Florida poll does take into account Romney’s good performance in the Boca Raton debate, but does not account for Senator Mel Martinez’s backing of McCain, a key “get” for McCain in courting the big Cuban-American vote.
In a Public Policy Polling track last night of 595 likely voters in tomorrow’s South Carolina Democratic primary, In a Public Policy Polling track Thursday night of 595 likely South Carolina Democratic voters, Barack Obama held a large lead (.pdf file) over Hillary Clinton, with John Edwards relatively close to her in third. Here are the numbers. Obama 44%, Clinton 24%, Edwards 19%. Other polls have shown a closer race between Obama and Clinton.