Election '08

Obama Takes South Carolina

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Presidential candidate Barack Obama knocked out the competition in South Carolina Saturday. The Democratic Senator from Illinois became the number one stunner with a whopping 55% of the total vote. Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator John Edwards received 27% and 18% of the vote, respectively, which means – well, Obama beat the pants off his main competitors. In fact, Obama received more votes than Clinton and Edwards combined.

Many analysts attribute Obama’s victory to a high black turnout, which, yes, definitely helped give Obama an electoral boost. According to the AP, four out of five black voters leaned toward Obama. Only 25% of white folk gave him their blessing.

More importantly than race, however, is the fact that Obama has been preparing for South Carolina far longer than his party peers:

Democratic activists here in South Carolina said that the Obama campaign had perhaps the most extensive field operation ever seen in this state.

The reach of the Obama field operation extended even to such often forgotten places as Allendale County, which has the second smallest population of any of the state’s 46 counties.

To cite another locale, Obama had had about 20 supporters working out of his Greenville, S.C. office since mid-summer; Clinton had only five or six starting in the fall, according to one Greenville Democratic activist.

Regardless of one’s political leanings, South Carolina illuminates the unprecedented level of excitement within the States’ Democratic circles. The last election only brought out 293,000 democrats. MSNBC points out that Obama alone received more than that amount of primary votes.

The campaigns certainly turned out the vote, but let’s not forget the gay rights activists who worked tirelessly to break South Carolina’s records. The National Stonewall Democrats focussed their energies on South Carolina because of the state’s high concentration of black homos and homettes. Said Jon Headly, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats:

Of all the early presidential states, it is the only one with a significant LGBT African American population. We decided to use that as an opportunity to deepen our organizing within the LGBT community, and especially LGBT communities of color.

The Wallers’ eschewed traditional events, like fancy-schmancy fundraisers, and instead focused on drawing candidates and their campaigns to a common ground with their potential supporters. For example, the National Stonewall Democrats worked to – and succeeded – draw the candidates to Black Pride events. South Carolina’s Stonewall leader, the uber-titled Rev. Dr. Keith L. Riddle explains:

I think presidential candidates expect to encounter our community at black-tie events on the Upper West Side, but not necessarily on historically Black college campuses in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Our presence this season has demonstrated that our community is everywhere and that Democratic politicians should be prepared to address hard questions and issues that impact our families no matter where they find themselves.

We think that’s just swell. For too long the national LGBT debate has been framed within insider institutions. It’s nice to know that non-profits – and the candidates themselves – are looking elsewhere for perspectives on homo matters. Let’s hope that the Democratic candidates remember the little people if elected to office.