The Last Day

COLUMBIA, S.C.—Today, Hillary entered the belly of the beast. The beast being Barack Obama’s base; its belly being Benedict College , a historically black school that Obama has courted assiduously over the past year.

The student body is largely pro-Obama, and it figures: Obama has visited the school, as have his wife, Michelle; actress Tatiana Ali; and Diana Ross’ daughter on his behalf. Hillary brought out her own star power today, but somehow Charlie Rangel and David Dinkins don’t have the same cachet here. (At the next event, in front of a mostly white audience, Rangel and Dinkins are absent.) When I ask a student why Obama commands so much support, he points to the skin on the back of his hand. But a lot of students were adamantly pro-Hillary, and many more are conflicted, as you could tell from the packed chapel.

Which is a useful reminder that this primary isn’t over. Sure, Obama has been canvassing the state for days. But Hillary is holding four events today; Bill is holding four as well. Obama is leading in the polls and among opinion-makers, but remember what happened in New Hampshire and Nevada. Sixty percent of South Carolina Democrats are black, but what if Obama’s grip on that demographic isn’t as strong as we thought?

And keep in mind: Even if Obama wins, he can still lose. (At least in the twisted, overreaching logic of post-election analysis.) For example: If he doesn’t take a decisive majority of African-Americans. If he doesn’t win one-quarter of whites. If his overall margin over Hillary is too narrow. In all of these instances, the postgame narrative won’t be Why did he win? but Why didn’t he win by more? That’s why the Clintons are painting Obama’s lead right now as extra-wide—so when he wins by five or six points, they can claim strategic victory.