Polls close at 7 p.m. in the first Democratic primary in the South. A Barack Obama loss here would be more of a shock than his win in Iowa or loss in New Hampshire. In the doldrums of last summer and autumn, when national polls showed Clinton with a 30-point lead, Obama occasionally led here. In Nevada, Obama won more than 80 percent of the black vote: For him to lose here he'd need to shed more than a third of that. We've been through way too many predictions of candidate doom in this race but, seriously, an Obama loss here would mean a total collapse and hint at a coming cross-demographic slaughter on Feb. 5.
Results will be here.
As a refresher, the 2004 primary results:
1. John Edwards: 44.9 percent, with 37 percent of the black vote.
2. John Kerry: 30.3 percent, with 34 percent of the black vote.
3. Al Sharpton: 9.7 percent, with 17 percent of the black vote.
4. Wesley Clark: 7.2 percent
5. Howard Dean: 4.7 percent
6. Joe Lieberman: 2.4 percent
– Richland, 47 percent black and most of that in the city of Columbia. It cast around 34,000 votes in 2004 and went only 37 percent for Edwards. If it doesn't go big for Obama, he's in trouble.
– Calhoun, the small county just south of Richland, where the vote totals in 2004 mirrored the votes in the rest of the state.
– Oconee, a 90 percent white county on the Georgia border, where Edwards scored a dominating 69 percent in 2004. It only cast around 5,500 votes that year, but the turnout and margin will tell how much white voters are turning out this time, and who for.
For this year, I'm thinking about 50 percent of the electorate will be black and 15 percent will be 18-29. Less than that means Obama's turnout machine is underperforming.
1. Barack Obama (40 percent). His lead grew to the high/mid-teens after Iowa. After two consecutive losses he's down to an average 11 point lead. The only sign of true, palm-sweating danger has appeared in a Thursday Zogby poll that showed him only 5 up over Clinton. If that was true, and momentum was with the two other candidates, the winner will pull out a 1 or 2 percent victory and might not be Obama. Someone else will have to predict that incredible upset, though: I think Obama has a floor of 37 percent and he'll get a boost from a solid win.
2. Hillary Clinton (33 percent). We won't know until her advisers wrap this up and write their books, but I feel like Clinton's used this primary, which she never expected to win (certainly not post-Iowa), as a petri dish for anti-Obama attacks. A close loss to a muddied Obama would be acceptable. A wide loss—bigger than the 9-point Iowa loss—would be a problem. A third-place finish would be a disaster, even if Obama only wins that narrowly.
3. John Edwards (26 percent). A second-place finish would cobble together a plurality of the white vote and a good chunk—15 percent at least—of the black vote. I simply don't think Edwards can achieve that, but the poisonous Clinton-Obama fight has been good for him, and he'll do well enough to stay in until Feb. 5. Then again, no one has gone broke underestimating John Edwards this year.
4. Others (<1 percent). Gravelmania! (Just kidding. He's not on the ballot.)
UPDATE 6:25: I'm not liveblogging, but before I head out I see that more than half of voters were black and 57 percent of all voters said Bill Clinton's campaigning influenced their vote. Obama's going to win, and it'll be interesting to see what the Bill effect was.