COLUMBIA - Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton yesterday looked towards the next battles in a bruising White House race after Obama rolled to a huge win in a bitterly contested South Carolina primary.
Obama, an Illinois senator who would be the first black US president, crushed Clinton in the latest showdown in a back-and-forth fight for the right to represent the Democratic Party in the November presidential election.
With heavy support from black voters, Obama doubled Clinton's tally to win 55 percent to 27 percent. John Edwards finished third with 18 percent.
The win for Obama after two losses to Clinton, in New Hampshire and Nevada, gave him new momentum heading into February 5 "Super Tuesday" Democratic contests in 22 states. Obama won the first contest in Iowa.
"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 told a cheering crowd in Columbia, South Carolina.
"In nine short days, nearly half the nation will have the chance to join us in saying we are tired of business-as-usual in Washington, we are hungry for change, and we are ready to believe again," he said.
Obama left South Carolina immediately after his victory to fly to Georgia, which votes on February 5. Clinton left before the votes were even tallied to fly to Tennessee, another February 5 state.
"Now the eyes of the country turn to Tennessee and the other states that will be voting on February 5," Clinton said in Nashville. "Millions and millions of Americans will have the chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted."
Obama offered a fresh jab at Clinton's attack on his statement that Republicans had been "the party of ideas" in recent years, saying it was evidence of what was wrong with Washington.
"It's the kind of partisanship where you're not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea - even if it's one you never agreed with," Obama said. "That kind of politics is bad for our party, it's bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all."
The high stakes in South Carolina fuelled a week of angry accusations and increasingly personal jabs between the two candidates, capped by a volley of attacks on Obama from Clinton's husband, former president Bill Clinton, and questions about the role of race.
Exit polls showed Obama won four of every five black voters, who made up more than half of the primary electorate.
He also won one-quarter of white votes, higher than many had predicted. Edwards and Clinton split the remaining white vote.
A record-smashing turnout of more than 500000 people cast ballots in the first Democratic primary in the South. - Reuters