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Youth Plays Big Role in Obama's Victory


After the overwhelming victory of Senator Barack Obama in the South Carolina Democratic primary Saturday, political analysts are examining the results and speculating on where the campaign goes from here. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Columbia, South Carolina, pundits say young voters may play a big role in determining the outcome of the next contests.

Senator Obama and his supporters are looking over the results here in South Carolina and honing their strategy for the upcoming primaries. In some ways South Carolina was unique, especially in terms of the role played by black voters. Much of Obama's overwhelming margin of success was owed to black voters, who made up about half of the overall turnout.

But by winning a quarter of the white vote, Obama showed he could draw votes across racial lines even in a deep South state. In his victory speech, Obama rejected the idea that his campaign was about race or any other divisive issue.

"This election is about the past versus the future," said Barack Obama.

His words made clear that Obama sees himself as the champion of the future and his chief opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as representatives of a past that many young people, in particular, would like to leave behind.

Obama won 50 percent of the vote among white people 18 to 29 years of age in South Carolina. He also scored well among middle-income voters with a college education. Obama South Carolina campaign spokesperson Amaya Smith says young people who support Barack Obama reject racial politics, gender politics and rigid partisan positions.

"I think they tend to be more concerned about bringing this country together, they are not involved in the old partisan fights and some of the old bickering that we have seen in the past from the politics of the old and, I think, they are not the type to demonize someone necessarily from the other party," said Amaya Smith. "They tend to be independent as well."

One segment of the electorate that has not responded well to Obama's message so far is that of Latinos. In Nevada, where there is a large Hispanic population, most of that vote went to Hillary Clinton.

Latinos are a much smaller part of the population in the South, but they are here. Maru Gonzalez, who comes from a Puerto Rican family, is an Obama supporter from Atlanta, Georgia, who came here to help with the campaign. She says many Latinos favor Hillary Clinton because they associate her with the accomplishments of her husband when he was president.

"A lot of people in the Latino community just remember what the Clintons did in the 1990's, in terms of jobs and economic growth and things like that," said Maru Gonzalez. "I think that is why many of them are placing their support with the Clintons. I think a lot of them still do not know a lot about Barack Obama, but my hope is that once they do learn about Barack Obama they will see that he is the right choice."

Gonzalez says she and other young Hispanics are backing Obama because they see him as the best option for the future and they are trying to convince others to do the same.

"I have actually talked to a lot of Latinos in my community, my family and things like that," she said. "A lot of people in my family were previously Hillary supporters and I have convinced them to join our side."

Hillary Clinton and former Senator John Edwards have their own appeals to youthful voters, but Clinton, in particular, has run a campaign that relies more on support from unions and traditional Democratic constituencies. She also has shown great strength in attracting votes from women. On February 5, voters in 22 states and American Samoa will have their chance to decide which of the candidates has the most appeal.

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