To get a sense for how South Carolina voters reacted to the Clintons’ campaign in their state I took a look at the McClatchy-MSNBC poll from January 14-16, and compared it to the CNN exit polls. In the chart below, the first number is the support on the 14th-16th, the second number is the actual number on election day, and the third number is the difference between the two. I also included a number to show how many people either supported Kucinich or were undecided in the first poll.

STATE WIDE RESULT McClatchy-MSNBC/CNN Exit Polls

Barack Obama 40%/55% +15
Hillary Clinton 31%/27% -4
John Edwards 13%/18% +5
Undecideds/Others (in pre-election poll) 16%

WHITE VOTERS McClatchy-MSNBC/CNN Exit Polls

Barack Obama 20%/24% +4
Hillary Clinton 39%/36% -3
John Edwards 28%/40% +12
Undecideds/Others (in pre-election poll) 13%

BLACK VOTERS McClatchy-MSNBC/CNN Exit Polls

Barack Obama 56%/78% +22
Hillary Clinton 25%/19% -6
John Edwards 2%/2% 0
Undecideds/Others (in pre-election poll) 17%

REGISTERED DEMOCRATS McClatchy-MSNBC/CNN Exit Polls

Barack Obama 43%/57% +14
Hillary Clinton 32%/28% -4
John Edwards 11%/ 14% +3
Undecideds/Others (in pre-election poll) 14%

This is not a perfect way to measure the effect of the Clintons because it’s a measure of everything, including the contentious debate, and the on the ground campaigning and GOTV efforts of the candidates. But we have no better tool to use than a poll from immediately before the Big Dog showed up in the Palmetto state and the exit polls from election day.

The numbers speak for themselves. Clinton lost committed support among whites, blacks, registered Democrats, and overall. Undecided (and changed mind) whites broke to Edwards and Obama at a 3-1 ratio. Undecided (and changed mind) blacks broke entirely to Obama. In fact, in the McClatchy poll, only 17% of blacks expressed indecision on the 16th, but a full 22% more of them voted for Obama than his committed support suggested would. Pretty much every undecided black voter in the state broke for Obama and then another 5% of committed Clinton voters left on top of that. And Edwards got no bump from all those late moving black voters.

This is strong evidence of racial polarization in the race. Make of it what you will, but the Clinton team is in damage control mode.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign team, seeking to readjust after her lopsided defeat in South Carolina and amid a sense among many Democrats that Mr. Clinton had injected himself clumsily into the race, will try to shift the former president back into the sunnier, supportive-spouse role that he played before Mrs. Clinton’s loss in the Iowa caucuses, Clinton advisers said.

Of course, Hillary Clinton lost the Iowa caucuses, which is a point surely not missed by her campaign. Here’s how The Economist saw things the day before the primary.

The Clinton Global Initiative is widely regarded as a model of its kind. Mr Clinton teamed up with Mr Bush senior to raise money for the victims of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. The mere mention of his name was enough to put the devotees of Davos and other such gatherings into a swoon.

But over the past few months Mr Clinton has downgraded himself from global statesman to political hatchet-man. No former president has inserted himself so wholeheartedly into a presidential race. (Mr Bush senior stayed in the background of his son’s campaign, and declined to get stuck in even after John McCain won in New Hampshire.) Mr Clinton has not only dismissed Barack Obama as a roll of the dice and a purveyor of fairy tales. He has also ripped into awkward reporters and wandered into the Nevada caucuses to canvass for his wife. He is spending more time campaigning in South Carolina than the candidate herself. Mr Clinton seems intent on playing Spiro Agnew to his wife’s Nixon, but with one important difference: Agnew went after the other side.

This all had an effect on Teddy Kennedy.

Quoting anonymous sources, both the Washington Post and New York Times [NYT] reported that Kennedy was frustrated with attacks on Obama by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, which he thought to be misleading. Sources confirmed Kennedy expressed his angst to Bill Clinton directly.

According to the Post, the senior senator’s frustration boiled over Saturday when the former president sought to downplay Obama’s South Carolina win by comparing him to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who won the Palmetto State in his long-shot 1984 and 1988 campaigns.

That actually wasn’t the only comment of its type that Clinton made on Saturday. And the Clinton campaign was optimistic that Obama had incurred lasting damage from the racial polarization of the race.

“They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender. That’s why people tell me Hillary doesn’t have a chance of winning here,” the former president said at one stop as he campaigned for his wife, strongly suggesting that blacks would not support a white alternative to Obama.

Clinton campaign strategists denied any intentional effort to stir the racial debate. But they said they believe the fallout has had the effect of branding Obama as “the black candidate,” a tag that could hurt him outside the South.

Clinton supporters note that the above Bill Clinton quote is truncated and that the full quote read:

“As far as I can tell, neither Senator Obama nor Hillary have lost votes because of their race or gender. They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender — that’s why people tell me Hillary doesn’t have a chance of winning here”

Do you think the extra sentence changes his meaning? In any case, it seems pretty obvious that the damage has been severe, as it rightfully should be.

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