9:55 pm: As we breathe to thank goodness for this tremendous race -- who's got more pressure now? The campaign now goes national, which is an advantage for Sen. Clinton. Yet Sen. Obama has an energy, an enthusiasm, on his side that's now worked for him twice. It also hasn't worked for him twice. This is going to be a bruiser -- get ready for everything to get tossed in every direction.
That's it for tonight. Check back tomorrow for a special edition of The Note. As always, thanks for reading...
9:49 pm: Clinton offers some congratulations in passing -- and mentions those "millions and millions of Americans" who are "going to have the chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted." On message -- no? Oh, and there was a Florida reference there, for good measure.
9:38 pm: Edwards can talk about how all these states haven't voted yet, but he -- even more than Clinton or Obama -- based his campaign on a four-state strategy, focusing on Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. He came in second, third, far distant third, and third. I don't know how he continues as an actual candidate, but he can continue as a cause, for what it's worth. If that's what John Edwards wants...
9:34 pm: Here comes John Edwards -- he must have trouble smiling tonight. "The three of us move on to Feb. 5," Edwards says. And he joins the president and Sen. Clinton in "graduating" -- sorry, "congratulating" -- Obama. How's that for a slip?
9:29 pm: Wrapping up a bit -- we're talking about a margin of victory of something in the neighborhood of 28 points. I don't care who set the odds, but that beats the spread, and then some. And Obama just gave a humdinger of a speech -- it started slow, but it hit a tremendous crescendo -- even Michelle Obama looked surprised by how good it was.
So Obama has a springboard to take into Feb. 5 -- if he can avoid being drawn into the tit-for-tat politics that the Clinton folks have been trying to mire him in for weeks. It ensures that all eyes will be on Bill Clinton, again -- will his role change substantially in the next 10 days?
9:20 pm: "It is not about black versus white," Obama says. He's returning to his 2004 speech, almost explicitly. It worked for a reason. The rhythm, the cadences -- he is behind the pulpit now, firing up his congregation. It's powerful.
9:13 pm: Watching Obama's speech -- I'm struck again by how much better he sounds when he wins than when he loses. Maybe all politicians are that way, but I think it's especially true about Obama. But so far, his speech after his victory in Iowa seemed better -- transcendent, forward-looking, powerful. He is focusing quite a bit on the big disagreements (such as they are) in the campaign. When he says, "That status quo is fighting back with everything it's got" -- this feeds the argument that Bill Clinton knew exactly what he was doing by roughing Obama up a bit.
But this is Obama's night. And if you're a voter in a Feb. 5 state, you're seeing a very talented politicians in action.
9 pm: As Obama gets set to take the stage, consider the margin as returns roll in. It's a 2-1 margin. That is a blowout by any measure. And another boost for Obama: The title tells it all in this op-ed, by Caroline Kennedy: "A President Like My Father."
8:51 pm: Reporters just got copies of Obama's victory speech -- and this is a really interesting one. It's not just about thanking his supporters with soaring rhetoric about changing the country.
Here's a taste: "But if there's anything we’ve been reminded of since Iowa, it’s that the kind of change we seek will not come easy. Partly because we have fine candidates in the field – fierce competitors, worthy of respect. And as contentious as this campaign may get, we have to remember that this is a contest for the Democratic nomination, and that all of us share an abiding desire to end the disastrous policies of the current administration."
"But there are real differences between the candidates. We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House. We're looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington – a status quo that extends beyond any particular party. And right now, that status quo is fighting back with everything it’s got; with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face, whether those problems are health care they can’t afford or a mortgage they cannot pay.
"So this will not be easy. Make no mistake about what we're up against."
8:44 pm: The latest results:
8:39 pm: Voters in the 2/5 states aren't watching the returns tonight and saying, Hmm, I guess I should vote for Obama too. But as they tune in seriously, they are watching what the candidates are doing and saying, and watching for signals voters in other states are sending. So no -- this does not mean by any stretch that Obama is set to romp. But he's set to compete with Clinton probably anytime and anywhere.
Bottom line prediction: Obama is going to get his groove back.
8:33 pm: Do you think the Clinton campaign can make Florida count after all this time? Is this just an inside-baseball political thing -- will the big headline on Wednesday morning (the only such headline that can be won in this 10-day span before Super Tuesday) make it all worthwhile?
8:24 pm: First, I don't know who you are, but there is no role for the outright racist comments below. No role.
As to whether Obama can win white voters -- of course he can. He did in Iowa, and winning about a quarter in a strong three-way race isn't awful. But Hillary Clinton has demonstrated real strength among not just white voters, but also Latinos -- who will play a huge role in some of the biggest 2/5 states, including the big daddy, California.
8:13 pm: Watching Bill Clinton right now in Missouri -- he quickly references "a big victory for us in Florida in just a couple of days." This, again, from the campaign that is telling us this is a battle for delegates -- they are now focused on winning a beauty contest in Florida. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is an interesting race," the former president said. "He won fair and square. . . . Now we go to Feb. 5, where millions of Americans finally get in the act." (Translation: Never mind the states we've all spent the last year wooing.)
Fair and square -- that's more generous than he was post-Nevada, when Obama actually lost! And then he said his "current capacity" is "post-politics." Right . . .
8:07 pm: The latest take from ABC polling director Gary Langer: "A vast wave of support from African-Americans lifted Barack Obama to victory in South Carolina's Democratic primary. But his showing among white voters suggests an uphill battle in those upcoming primaries where blacks play less of a role."
"Whites meanwhile divided more closely among the three candidates, though Obama notably failed to attract more than a quarter of their votes. Clinton and Edwards were even among whites, with Clinton winning white women, Edwards, white men. Interestingly, then, it was blacks who gave Clinton her second-place finish."
8:05 pm: A gracious statement from Clinton -- and a quick reference to 2/5 (and American Samoa!?) "I have called Senator Obama to congratulate him and wish him well. Thank you to the people of South Carolina who voted today and welcomed me into their homes over the last year. Your stories will stay with me well beyond this campaign and I am grateful for the support so many of you gave to me. We now turn our attention to the millions of Americans who will make their voices heard in Florida and the twenty-two states as well as American Samoa who will vote on February 5th."
7:59 pm: A first cut at Obama spin, from ABC's Sunlen Miller: The Obama campaign is framing Obama’s South Carolina win as a "repudiation of the politics of the past." Communications Director Robert Gibbs says the campaign "they" conducted this week was beaten tonight. On Bill Clinton, Gibbs says that if tonight "is any measure may we should hope he goes to a lot of places."
7:40 pm: ABC is projecting Hillary Clinton as the second-place finisher, with Edwards taking third. So a storyling is NOT a Clinton washout, but what does Edwards do? Is he content to pick up a handful of delegates here and there? As things are heading now, I'm not sure he gets to the level of being a potential kingmaker.
7:38 pm: And the white vote is key here, naturally. If Obama ends up with about a quarter of white votes, is that enough for him to claim a broad coalition? I'm not convinced, BUT remember that he won Iowa, even though that's a state with almost no black voters.
7:21 pm: The battle for second does become key here. If Sen. Clinton comes in third (like she did in Iowa) that will be a shocker. And it gets John Edwards back in the conversation, though perhaps not fully in the race. If Clinton comes in second -- well, that's what was expected. And Edwards will be having some very serious conversations about what comes next.
7:15 pm: We're going to see Hillary Clinton speak at 8:30 -- from Tennessee, not South Carolina, with her eyes on the next round. Obama we're expecting around 9 -- from the friendly confines of Columbia, S.C.
7:10 pm: So it's four big contests down, and it's two apiece. (And the AP is calling it a rout, as returns just begin to trickle in). We continue to take different lessons from each of these contests. But it's more clear than ever that this thing is going to Feb. 5 and very probably well beyond -- Ohio and Texas, which vote March 4, are good contests to circle on the calendar.
And this is the biggest challenge for the Clinton machine since . . . well, Iowa. Bill Clinton can suggest that this is happening solely because Obama is black, but if Bill Clinton thinks Obama is Jesse Jackson, he's deluding himself -- and very possibly hurting his wife's campaign.
7:02 pm: Stephanopoulos: "This is a big loss for Hillary today." And this from Rep. Jim Clyburn (who stayed neutral -- mostly -- to the end), a few moments ago on MSNBC: "In the last 48 hours, the voters kind of recoiled. The decided to reject the racial animus that seemed to be developing. I'm so pleased."
7 pm ET: ABC IS CALLING THE RACE RIGHT AT POLL CLOSING TIME. From our decision desk: "Based on exit poll data, ABC News projects that Obama will win the South Carolina Democratic primary. We do not yet have enough information to project who will be second or third, but based on the exit polls Clinton is leading over Edwards in a race for second."
This would SUGGEST a large margin -- networks don't call races based only on exit polls unless it's pretty convincing.
6:58 pm: This will provide updated REAL VOTE information, as it rolls in from S.C. precincts:
6:51 pm: So with only a few minutes left, any last-second predictions? Again -- it's not enough for Obama to win. For him to get the full benefit of victory, he's got to win by a substantial margin. And what will that mean for Bill's role going forward? If voters appear to reject his tone, will we see less of him? Is it even possible for the campaign to control him?
On the trail today, President Clinton let drop that Jesse Jackson won South Carolina, twice. Already he was discounting the import of the contest. Will that be enough to spin away a loss?
6:38 pm: On ABC a few moments ago, George Stephanopoulos said Obama "won the black vote in Nevada -- he had more than 80 percent of the black vote. If he gets that kind of percentage in South Carolina today, he'll win the primary big."
6:28 pm: Douglas makes an interesting point -- the state-level polls (and the national polls) do show Clinton in a very strong place on Feb. 5. But that's the point of momentum -- we see early results having a big impact on states that come later in the process. Ask Rudy Giuliani how that's impacting him these days.
6:15 pm: A few more interesting notes from the exit polls -- the economy is far and away the No. 1 issue about S.C. Democrats -- not surprising in a state that's been battered by lost jobs in the manufacturing/textile sectors. And more than half of today's voters are saying they're looking primarily for a candidate who can "bring about needed change."
6:11 pm: EXIT POLL INFO: Preliminary exit poll results indicate what our smart people are calling a "very large turnout" among African-American voters -- definitely more than 50 percent of voters in South Carolina are black, according to the early numbers, compared to 47 percent in 2004, and 43 percent in 1992. There's also heavy turnout among female voters, who are making up about 6 in 10 S.C. voters.
From ABC polling director Gary Langer: "Two groups that have been heavily courted in the run-up to today's South Carolina Democratic primary – women and African-Americans – are turning out in large numbers today. Preliminary exit poll results indicate that just over half are blacks this year; if that holds in final data later tonight, it would be the highest turnout among African-Americans in any Democratic presidential primary at least since 1984."
6:08 pm: I figured someone would ask what the spread is, after I said Obama has to beat it. . . . Sorry to disappoint, but . . . we'll know it when we see it. If Clinton keeps it close, it's well within the margin of spinnability, as molded by the expectations game. If it's a romp, that could swamp even the best spinmeisters in the business -- including the pros inside Clinton's shop.
5:52 pm: One game tonight -- how well does Edwards need to do to avoid embarrassment? He can't afford another 4 percent showing, like he had in Nevada. Does he exceed expectations if he's in double digits? Maybe -- but would that change anything? Remember, he's unlikely to have conditions this favorable again: He was born in S.C., and won the state in '04. Would second place be an achievement? Surely, yes -- enough for him to go on to Feb. 5. But even then, where's the argument for him going forward? As he is himself acknowledging, he needs to start winning some contests.
5:20 pm: Mark (and others who are interested) -- the Edwards campaign has indeed responded. This from Edwards campaign manager David Bonior: "Seems as though the prohibitive frontrunner sees John Edwards as a threat her becoming the nominee and that’s why they’re resorting to false, underhanded tactics to attack John Edwards’ message of fighting for whose who are too often not heard in Washington."
5:10 pm: It may go without saying, but the most important thing to watch tonight in the exit polls will be the split between black and white voters. In the easiest manner of thinking, a high proportion of black voters means a big night for Obama, a low proportion -- something less than that.
4:57 pm: So the most buzz out there on primary day isn't about the spat between Clinton and Obama -- it's about one between Clinton and Edwards. The Clinton campaign waited for election day (or maybe the day before) to bring out this robocall, slamming Edwards on trade and his work for a hedge fund.
An excerpt, courtesy of ABC's Raelyn Johnson: "Hello, This is the Hillary Clinton for President campaign. Before you vote on Saturday, you should know that John Edwards voted for permanent trade relations with China. That’s right, John Edwards voted for the bill that cost thousands of jobs. Like the ones in the textile mills he talks about so much down here. You should also know that John Edwards made nearly a half a million dollars working for a Wall Street investment fund. A fund that’s been profiting on foreclosing on the homes of families; including 100 homes right here in South Carolina. . . . Can you trust John Edwards? This call is paid for by the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign."
This speaks to a fascinating (if under-covered) dynamic of the closing days of the campaign. Recent polls have shown Obama slipping among white voters in S.C. -- but his support is going to Edwards, not Clinton. A robocall like this suggests that the Clinton campaign sees Edwards as a threat, or at least that his voters are "gettable" for her.
4:45 pm ET: Interesting tidbit, courtesy of ABC's Sarah Amos, who's been covering Bill Clinton: "My message has been 99.9 percent positive for 100 percent of the campaign," the former president said today in South Carolina.
This is a claim that's possible to fact-check (would you count up the words he's spoken over the past year?). But it strains credulity for the former president to claim that he's been almost exclusively -- save for .1 percent of the time -- a force in favor of his wife. Certainly if you look at volumes of news coverage dedicated to what he's said on the trail, it's just not the case -- and Bill Clinton KNOWS that he can drive news coverage with attacks on Barack Obama. You can say what you will about whether the attacks are in bounds -- John Kerry and a host of other Obama defenders think they aren't. But now the president is claiming that the attacks didn't happen?
Rick Klein from ABC's The Note here, live-blogging the Democratic primary results out of South Carolina. I hope and trust you're up for another fun Saturday night of politics.
Some thoughts as we wait for exit polls and polling results to come in . . .
As I discussed in this morning's Note, Barack Obama has really been boxed in by the successful expectations-setting of the Clinton campaign. He needs not only to win, but to cover the spread -- and to do it with a sufficient number of white voters so that he doesn't become the "black candidate" moving forward. Already, Camp Clinton is stirring up some mischief in Florida, accusing Obama of ignoring a key swing state (one that just happens to vote on Tuesday) -- even though both Clinton and Obama made a pledge not to campaign in Florida, to preserve the special status of four early-voting states. And John Edwards? He needs something dramatic tonight, otherwise the countdown will start on him making a Very Big Decision about the future of his candidacy.
But it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. As Hillary Clinton has learned (to her benefit) of late, a win is a win. Her campaign has NOT written off South Carolina, even though she's spent much of the week elsewhere. And a win by Obama today will ensure that this race will go on for a while.