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The Take-away From South Carolina

What you need to know about tonight's results:

1.) Obama took nearly 80 percent of the black vote, yes, but also about a quarter of the white vote. That stacks up pretty well alongside Hillary's 36 percent and Edwards's 40***--well enough that Nora O'Donnell of MSNBC could call it "almost a three-way split," and The New York Times could proclaim that a "coalition of white and black support" powered Obama's victory. This is a huge development going forward. The one thing Obama couldn't afford coming out of South Carolina was to be pigeonholed as "the black candidate." Instead, the opposite is happening--he's being hailed as someone who can appeal to all demographics.

What's more, that 24-percent share among whites comes after four South Carolina polls (the last four that made cross-tabs publicly available) showing him with only 17 percent of the white vote on average. So Obama over-performed among white voters, suggesting a possible backlash against the Clintons' tactics.  

2.) Once you get below the top-line statistics, the results look even better for Obama: He appears to have tied Hillary among white men (though I'm still waiting for official confirmation of that), and trounced her 52-27 among non-black voters under 30 (though they only accounted for 5 percent of the total vote.)

3.) In recent weeks, many of us in the chattering class have argued that Obama's best hope of winning was to frame the race as a choice between the future and everything you didn't like about the '90s. Obama has gradually made this case over the past week. Tonight, he went a long way toward hammering it home. I thought these passages in his victory speech were especially effective:

We are up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as President comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to the White House. But we know that real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose – a higher purpose. ...

We are up against the idea that it’s acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election.  We know that this is exactly what’s wrong with our politics; this is why people don’t believe what their leaders say anymore; this is why they tune out.  And this election is our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again. ...

The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders.  It’s not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white.

It’s about the past versus the future.

4.) Related to the previous point: I think the Clintons played into this narrative today--with Bill Clinton's outrageous, unprompted comparison of Obama's victory to Jesse Jackson's South Carolina victories in 1984 and '88. (One huge difference: Jackson never broke out of single digits among whites.) I think the media is going to give them a hard time for this--and deservedly so.** 

5.) Michelle Cottle's terrific piece in this week's issue is all about the silent putsch that went down in Hillaryland after Iowa, but which was somewhat stillborn after New Hampshire. I wonder if, to put it delicately, it'll be un-stillborn now. This graf in her piece is especially worth consulting:

In any given situation, the first member of this inner circle to be targeted for abuse is [pollster and chief strategist Mark] Penn. The reasons are legion: his high profile; his right-of-center politics; his myopic focus on issues; his dismissal of the need for Hillary to get personal and address her likability problem; his unusual dual role as top strategist and pollster; and, of course, his famously rough manner. It's little wonder that all those insiders who didn't care for Penn when the team was riding high were salivating at the idea of prying the campaign from his cold dead hands as things turned south in Iowa. But, despite political watchers crediting Hillary's comeback to her at last getting personal (a move Penn had fought against in favor of more Iron Lady messaging), New Hampshire bought Penn a reprieve.

Is it possible that we'll see Penn marginalized now? Tonight's bottom-line result was anticipated, but the nearly 30-point margin clearly wasn't. If someone pays, I say it's Penn. (One small, possibly meaningless/possibly telling indication: It's Penn who normally attaches his name to the "strategy memos" the campaign sends out to "pre-spin" primary results. Today's memo came with communications director Howard Wolfson's name attached.*)

6.) Last but not least: Don't sleep on the reverse Bradley effect. The South Carolina polls conducted by human beings way, way under-predicted Obama's black support. The polls conducted by machines only somewhat underpredicted it. I say that's pretty strong evidence that black voters were reluctant to tell human pollsters they supported Obama. To all you poli-sci grad-students out there looking for a dissertation topic--dissertate away! All I ask is that you cite me in your acknowledgements. And maybe name the phenomenon after me. That's it!

*The counter-argument here is that the Clinton campaign probably didn't yet know how disastrous the result was going to be when they sent the memo out...

**This item initially stated that Hillary didn't congratulate Obama in her remarks in Tennessee. The Clinton campaign (and a commenter) notes that Hillary did in fact congratulate Obama at this event. I regret the error and apologize to the Clinton campaign for the mistake. I'm going to post the relevant passage as soon as I track it down. Update: Here's the video--Hillary's congratulations comes about 1:25 in. I was watching and just flat out missed it. (It comes and goes very quickly.) I think Hillary should have been more gracious and delivered a standard concession speech, but there's no excuse for my missing that. Apologies again to the campaign and readers.

***This item initially put John Edwards's share of the white vote at 29. It was 40. The exit polls tend to change slightly over the course of the night (they initially showed Obama with over 80 percent of the black vote, and the final tally was 78, so I've updated that), but obviously not that much. I'm not sure what I was smoking tonight, but thanks to the commenters for pointing this out.

--Noam Scheiber