John Edwards may have been the hometown candidate in the state, but Illinois Senator Barack Obama was the voter’s favorite as South Carolina primary results came in on Saturday.

Obama won over rival New York Senator Hillary Clinton by a strong margin, while she battled with Edwards for second place.

With almost all precincts now reported in, Barack Obama has been declared as the winner over Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina primary.

The projected win was announced by CNN even before polls closed in the state, based on exit polling numbers taken from voters as they exited voting stations.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Barack Obama led Hillary Clinton 55 percent (295,091 votes) to 27 percent (141,128 votes).

John Edwards, who was born in the state and won the primary in 2004, followed in a third at 18 percent (93,552 votes).

Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, who withdrew from the presidential race on Friday, took fourth place, receiving only 551 votes.

In a victory speech from Columbia, Obama thanked the voters of South Carolina, his wife Michelle Obama and his children.

“Two weeks ago we saw the people of Iowa proclaim that our time for change has come.

“But there were those who doubted the country’s desire for something new, who said Iowa was a fluke, not to be repeated again.

“Well, tonight the cynics who believe that what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different a different story by the good people of South Carolina.

“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 that we’ve seen in a long, long time,” Obama said.

Hilary Clinton issued a written statement regarding the South Carolina results saying:

“I have called Senator Obama to congratulate him and wish him well. Thank you to the people of South Carolina who voted today and welcomed me into their homes over the last year.

“Your stories will stay with me well beyond this campaign and I am grateful to the support so many of you gave to me.

“We now turn our attention to the millions of Americans who will make their voices heard in Florida and the 22 states as well as American Samoa who will vote on February 5th.”

Former President Bill Clinton, speaking from Independence, Missouri, told a crowd of supporters: “[Obama] won fair and square. We went there and asked the people to vote for us and they voted for him and we congratulate him. Now we go to February 5th when millions of Americans finally get in the act.”

Edwards was also already looking forward to “Super Tuesday”.

“Now the three of us move on to February 5th, where millios of Americans will cast their vote and help shape the future of this party and help shape the future of America,” he said.

CNN exit polls showed 61 percent of voters were female, compared to 39 percent males.

Voters between the ages of 45 to 59 were most highly represented, making up 35 percent of voters. Young voters between 18 and 29 were the smallest group at only 13 percent of those who went to the polls.

According to Associated Press exit polls, half of South Carolina voters said the economy was the most important issue to them, followed by health care at 25 percent and Iraq at 20 percent. (There were no other choices.)

Half of voters were black and 8 in 10 blacks voted for Obama, according to preliminary AP exit polls. Among white voters, Obama received only about a quarter of the votes.

Although black support obviously contributed heavily to his win in South Carolina, Obama stated in his victory speech, “The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders… It’s not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white.”

Democratic party officials predicted a record turnout for voters in the South Carolina primary.

Voting numbers are expected to significantly exceed those in the South Carolina Republican primary last weekend, a trend that has continued through most of the primaries and caucuses so far.

Arizona Senator John McCain won the Republican primary in the state last Saturday, beating out former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, who pulled out of presidential contention after the primary, came in third. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took fourth place in the contest.

The South Carolina primary is considered a key state for Obama, who lost both the Nevada Caucus and the Michigan primary to Clinton.

Black voters could prove to be the deciding factor in the race with the loyalty of white voters turn primarily between Clinton and Edwards, according to a McClatchy-MSNBC poll conducted January 22-23.

While Edwards did not walk away with a public victory in South Carolina, he continues to collect delegates for the Democratic convention.

Although he has yet to prove himself as a frontrunner among voters, Edwards has no intention of dropping out of the race like former contender Dennis Kucinich.

Last week, Edwards said, according to CNN, “I’m in this for the long haul. We’re continuing to accumulate delegates. There’s actually a very narrow margin between Senator Obama, Senator Clinton and myself on delegates.”

Forty-five delegates were at stake in the South Carolina primary. Obama received 25 of them, Clinton took 12 and Edwards won 8.

Ann Turner © 2007 GayWired.com; All Rights Reserved