Erasing Race

Within seconds of the polls closing, CNN projected Barack Obama won the South Carolina primaries—a “strong” victory, according to Wolf Blitzer. But this primary, more than most others, isn’t about who won overall, but about the candidates’ share of support among their core demographics.

The key number, courtesy of MSNBC’s exit poll: Obama took home a quarter of the white vote in South Carolina. That’s much better than polls were projecting near the tail-end of the campaigning there, and Obama’s campaign can save face going forward to whiter states on Feb. 5.

The reason we’re talking about this in the first place is because the Clintons racialized this primary. And if exit polls hold true, then they just had a giant egg cracked on their face. By subtly hinting at race in much of their messaging over the last week, they left the door open for Obama to fall flat if he only pulled in one out of every 10 white voters. But tonight Clinton didn’t outstrip Obama among white voters by much—about 10 to 15 percentage points in exit polls —which means Obama is vindicated and the media will portray this race as a landslide, not as a landslide in the black community.

Going forward, Obama still has plenty of problems, his lack of support in Latino communities chief among them. But tonight, he finally found a way to do what he couldn’t do all week: fight back against the Clintons’ racial messaging. After a win in Iowa, one of the whitest early primary states, and a win in South Carolina, the blackest early primary state, perhaps it’s time to think that Obama can overcome the Clinton-constructed racial divide.