COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. Barack Obama exulted in his convincing victory over Sen. Hillary Clinton in Saturday's racially tinged South Carolina Democratic primary, calling his rout a victory over a status quo that's "fighting back with everything it's got with the same old tactics that divide and distract us."
Obama told a euphoric convention hall full of supporters that his victory here shatters old political assumptions that separate people by party, religion, and race.
"After four great contests in every corner of this country, we have the most votes, the most delegates, and the most diverse coalition of Americans we've seen in a long, long time," he told the multi-racial crowd, heavy with young people, as they chanted "we want change."
Without naming Clinton, he said: "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."
When Hillary Clinton left South Carolina earlier in the week to campaign elsewhere, she had left her husband behind to carry her flag throughout South Carolina, where the former president went after Obama aggressively even as he tried to cultivate the state's black vote.
The Obama campaign complained that it was running against two Clintons. But Obama said he learned a valuable less on from his South Carolina experience.
"People were making false assertions about our record and we answered them, period," Obama told reporters Thursday after a rally in Kingstree, SC. "Remember, early on in the campaign, everybody was concerned about, 'Well I don't know about Obama, he may be too nice, I'm not sure if he's up to the rough and tumble.'"
Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political science professor who specializes in African-American politics, said that Obama leaves the Palmetto State with battle scars but also with convention delegates and a newfound backbone.
"He's roughed up a bit, but he's gained some muscle," Walters said. "He's gained in credibility about being electable. He might have made a mistake by spending the whole week in South Carolina, but then he didn't have Bill Clinton holding down the fort."
Bruce Ransom, a Clemson University political science professor, agreed.
"Not only can he take a punch, he stood his ground and engaged in the back and forth when some suggested (early on) that he was too cerebral, too professorial, too cool," Ransom said.
That said, Walters feels the Clintons were partially successful in South Carolina in getting Obama off "the racial neutrality" track and marginalizing him as "the black candidate."
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton used damning praise against Obama, describing him as an eloquent speaker but asserting that he has little concrete to show for his fancy rhetoric.
Polls earlier this week suggested that Obama would not do well among white voters in South Carolina. Early exit polls Saturday showed former Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, collected the lion's share of the white vote while Obama got a quarter of that group - performing better than the pre-primary polls indicated.
Obama shrugged off the race questions in interviews on the Saturday morning news shows.
"You'll recall that early in this campaign everyone was asking am I black enough, right," Obama told NBC News' Lester Holt. "What our message has been is constant. I'm not running as a black or white candidate, or a red or blue state candidate. I'm running as a candidate to be president of the United States."