Monday, January 28, 2008

Obama Sweeps South Carolina Primary, Gains New Supporters

In a complete upset in South Carolina this weekend, Senator Barack Obama gained an immense amount of support from a pivotal southern "red" state. Gaining 55% of the vote, with 99% of the electoral precincts reporting, Obama carried voter support by a wide margin Saturday night, putting him ahead of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and fellow Democratic candidate John Edwards. Edwards, who was born in South Carolina, only gained 18% of the electoral vote. And despite previous allegations by former President Bill Clinton, as he helped campaign on his wife Hillary's behalf, Senator Obama can look beyond the black community for campaign allegiance. Obama is noted to have said to the southern crowd Saturday night that he "did not travel around this state over the last year and see a white South Carolina or a black South Carolina . . . [he] saw South Carolina," marking the desire for his road to presidency to be one marked by unity and not division along racial lines. In fact, Senator Obama gained 25% of the white vote in South Carolina this weekend, demonstrating his cross-racial appeal, even in a place in which the population is frequently reminded of its sullied Confederate past, the Confederate flag still a mainstay in public events and private residences.

Obama also garnered increased publicity and endorsement from prominent members of the Kennedy family, including Senator Edward Kennedy, much to the chagrin of the Clintons. Obama's campaign and future goals are considered to be a modern embodiment of the late former President John F. Kennedy's legacy. Obama and his family, wife Michelle Obama and his two daughters Malia Ann and Natasha ("Sasha"), are the post-millennial version of "Camelot," providing a reminder that all hope is not lost for black families, young families, and/or families that are comprised of parents who are aggressively devoted to their careers. In an Op-Ed piece today in the New York Times entitled "A President Like My Father," Caroline Kennedy remarked with regard to the striking similarities between JFK and Senator Obama:
OVER the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible. . .

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960. . .

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

The Obama family may come as an answer to the "family values" Republican candidates often speak of, but for which they can rarely provide adequate examples. Other Democratic candidates are taking notes, the Clintons presenting themselves as the most unified they have been in years, with Bill supporting his wife on the campaign trail. Yet the Clintons provide an example of the type of family dysfunction that, while practically the contemporary norm, is a bit unsettling considering the turmoil in which America is engaged abroad and the crumbling domestic economy. If anything, America seems to want to see a candidate who can provide hope for the future, and unfortunately for Senator Clinton, her campaign has yet to fully provide that sense of security for many American voters, despite her impressive resume.

In fact, the Clinton campaign has headed down a dark path from which they are scrambling to recover. Many voters and campaign advisers found the tone of the campaign to be one of negativity and beyond borderline mudslinging. In fact, the Clinton camp has sought to pull the reigns on Bill Clinton's hardball approach, requesting that he soften his message after a comparison of Senator Obama's success in South Carolina to that of Jesse Jackson's during his campaign in the 1980s got him quite a bit of hot water. The reliance upon Bill's popularity in the black community has also backfired, rendering Bill (and the Clinton campaign as a whole) the butt of jokes heard 'round the blogosphere regarding his assumed claim of black authenticity. Bill Clinton's involvement has also damaged the image surrounding Hillary as a strong female leader. With her husband at the helm, due in part to his notoriety, Hillary is overshadowed, and the idea of a "partner presidency" comes to the forefront, turning off voters who may have supported Hillary, but who were not big fans of Bill. Hopefully the campaign for Hillary Clinton can have a turn-around so that voters can focus more on policy and Hillary's political voice than a physical reminder of 1992 - 2000, but only time will tell.

For full transcripts of the Democratic candidates South Carolina primary speeches, click the links below:

- Wendi Muse

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