Senator Barack Obama has stormed to his second win in the 2008 Democratic primaries, winning Saturday's poll in South Carolina by a big margin.
With the first early results and exits polls clearly in Senator Obama's favour, the campaign manager David Axelrod declared victory.
With three per cent counted, Senator Obama had won with 53 per cent of the vote, after receiving strong support from the African American community, which makes up nearly half of registered Democrats in the state.
"This was a very strong message. It points to the future and not the past; to unity not division," Mr Axelrod said..
Senator Hillary Clinton was projected to gain 32 per cent of the vote, while former Senator John Edwards came in third with 15 per cent.
The win for Senator Obama - his first in a broader secret ballot - puts him in serious contention to become the first black president and will give him renewed momentum going into Super Tuesday, when 22 states vote on February 5.
Without a win in South Carolina, he would have battled the perception that his only other win in the caucus in Iowa was a fluke, achieved by organising students, rather than a true reflection of his popularity.
But the increasingly bitter battle between Senator Obama and the Clintons, spearheaded by the former president, Bill Clinton, has taken its toll.
Senator Clinton saw her vote slump during the week as the campaign turned nasty and the Clinton camp ran negative ads accusing Obama of praising Ronald Reagan and of playing on his racial background as an African American to win votes.
The Obama camp countered that the Clintons were trying to paint them as the campaign that is backed by African americans – a strategy that could playout next week in big states.
Mr Axelrod said the result was a clear rejection of divisive politics.
"Plainly the efforts to divide failed – you just need to look at the numbers," he said
In several big states, such as California and New York, the Hispanic vote will be crucial to winning and by marginalising Senator Obama, the Clintons may have boosted their stocks with this community and with Caucasians in southern and mid-western states.
Mr Axelrod said the race would now come down to a race for delegates, which are rewarded in proportion to the vote. He predicted the nomination would not be decided until well after Super Tuesday.
Over half a million people voted in the Democratic primary in South Carolina, a record turnout. This bodes well for the Democrats in actual election in November. The Republican turnout in their primary last weekend was down on 2000.
Over half a million people voted in. This bodes well for the Democrats in the actual election in November. The Republican turnout in their primary last weekend was down on 2000.
About half the voters were black, according to exit poll interviews, and four out of five of them supported Obama.
Black women turned out in particularly large numbers. Obama nearly got a quarter of the white vote, which was higher than expected, while Clinton and Edwards split the rest.
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