Sen. Barack Obama, vying to become the nation's first black president, has won the South Carolina primary today, boosted by a record turnout of African-American voters.
Obama overwhelmingly beat Sen. Hillary Clinton with 55 percent support to her 27 percent, and former Sen. John Edwards, trailing with 18 percent support, with almost all preccints reporting.
"Tonight, the cynics who believed that what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good people of South Carolina," Obama said to supporters tonight.
"We have the most votes, the most delegates, and the most diverse coalition of Americans we've seen in a long, long time," Obama told supporters, who cheered "Yes we can!"
In a direct swipe at Clinton's campaign, Obama said, "There are real differences between the candidates. We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House," he said.
"We're looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington ... and right now, that status quo is fighting back with everything it's got; with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face," Obama said.
Clinton left South Carolina tonight for Nashville, Tenn., where she sought to minimize her loss and emphasize the upcoming Super-Duper Tuesday votes Feb. 5.
"I want to congratulate Sen. Obama tonight," Clinton told supporters. "Now the eyes of the country turn to Tennessee and the other states that will be voting Feb.5 and of course the state of Florida that will be voting Tuesday."
Yet to win any primary contest thus far, John Edwards lost again tonight, another crushing blow to the former senator, who was born in South Carolina and won the state in 2004.
Congratulating Obama and Clinton tonight, Edwards told supporters, "Our campaign from the very beginning has been about one central thing, and that is to give voice to millions of Americans who have absolutely no voice," Edwards said.
This is the second win in the nomination battle for Obama, who won the Iowa caucuses earlier this month, but this is his first win in a state with a sizable African-American population.
Women and African-Americans, courted heavily by the candidates, turned out in very large numbers to vote in what became a bitter Democratic primary marked by rhetoric about race and gender.
Exit poll results indicate 55 percent of Democratic primary voters this year were black -- the highest turnout among African-Americans in any Democratic presidential primary for which data is available, reports ABC News' Gary Langer. Women accounted for six in 10 voters, similar to their 57 percent turnout rate in 2004.
Obama won the support of 78 percent of black voters, compared with 19 percent for Hillary Clinton and just two percent for John Edwards. Whites, meanwhile, divided more closely among the three candidates, though Obama notably failed to attract more than a quarter of their votes, reports Langer. Clinton and Edwards were even among whites, with Clinton winning white women, Edwards, white men.
Clinton started out strong in the state, but began to trail Obama in December. In recent weeks her campaign has tried to lower expectations, positioning her as the underdog in the race, and largely leaving her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to campaign for her in the Palmetto State.