Barack Obama routed Hillary Clinton two to one in the heaviest turnout in a Democratic primary in the history of South Carolina. Such a defeat would normally be a crushing and perhaps fatal blow to a rival's campaign. Bill and Hillary laughed it off.
Indeed, even before the voting had ended, Bill Clinton had tarnished and diminished Barack's victory. Responding to an unrelated question, he volunteered that Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in the 1980s.
This is an Arkansan way of saying black candidates always do well when there is a large black bloc vote, as in the Deep South, but no one should take this seriously. By introducing Jackson and earlier saying the Palmetto State contest would be about gender and race, Clinton set the media to looking beyond Barack's total vote to its racial composition.
And, sure enough, when the final returns came in, Barack had won 78 percent of the black vote, and lost 76 percent of the white vote.
Thus, Barack's victory instantly raised a question in the minds of pundits and politicians. Can Democrats nominate a black candidate who cannot win a fourth of the white vote in a landslide victory in a Democratic primary in South Carolina?
Would nominating such a candidate cede all 11 states of the Old Confederacy to the GOP and imperil Democratic candidates all the way down the ticket? In truth, it would.
The anger and bristling defiance of the Clintons in his victory speech suggests that Obama knows what has been done to him and is being done to him, and knows there is little he can do about it.
Indeed, his victory speech was sandwiched by cable TV between a speech by Bill from Missouri and a town hall meeting with Hillary from Tennessee in which both congratulated Barack as though he had just won a friendly round of golf. Their smiles and laughter said more than their words that Barack's victory was a big nothing-burger.
Both Clintons, in their non-concession concession speeches, looked ahead confidently not only to Feb. 5, when half the nation goes to the polls, but to Florida, which is today.
What was this all about, as Hillary and Obama agreed not to campaign in Florida and no delegates will be chosen, as the state is being sanctioned by the party for getting out of line in the primary process?
Seems the Clintons have been clandestinely working Florida, so that, after the South Carolina setback, they can get big headlines by winning the largest state yet to vote. This could instantly cancel out Barack's momentum from South Carolina and create Clinton momentum for the seven days before Super Tuesday.
It's bending the rules perhaps, but tactically brilliant, assuming they win. And, according to The New York Times, by the Friday before the Florida primary, some 400,000 Floridian Democrats had already voted.
Bill and Hillary are being accused of the politics of divisiveness and playing the race card. But while the former president may have behaved in a most unpresidential way, he is doing for his wife nothing Bobby Kennedy -- "Ruthless Robert," as he was then known -- would not and did not do for his brother and Old Joe Kennedy, who is said to have bought the West Virginia primary, did not do for his son.
Feb. 5 seems certain to be do-or-die day for Barack Obama. As of this writing, he has more votes than Hillary and more delegates, but has been made to pay a huge price for his success.
He has been converted by the Clintons, their surrogates and a media that the Clintons have played like a Stradivarius from the Barack who carried white Iowa into The Black Candidate.
There is nothing the Clintons and their surrogates have said that is overtly racist. From raising the drug issue, to calling Barack's rendition of his record on Iraq a "fairy tale," to contending that, while Dr. Martin Luther King was an inspirational leader, LBJ got the job done, to saying South Carolinians will vote on gender and race, to raising the Jesse Jackson comparison, all the points the Clintons have made are valid.
It is the media's obsession with race that has done the job for the Clintons in marginalizing Obama and given him the high hurdles he faces on Feb. 5.
The problem for Barack is this: If, on Super Tuesday, he wins again the same 78 percent of the black vote he won in South Carolina, while losing the 76 percent of the white vole he lost, and loses that two-thirds of the Hispanic vote he lost in Nevada, he could be wiped out.
Indeed, polls show his Hispanic vote shrinking further and faster than his white vote, his "Yes, we can" ("Si, se puede") refrains notwithstanding.
January raises a long-term question. If an African-American with as great a cross-racial appeal as Obama had in Iowa can be so easily ghettoized in three weeks to where whites and Hispanics, the fastest growing minority in America, recoil, when if ever can a black American be nominated or elected president?
Is Bill Clinton not only "our first black president," but our last?