( Reuters )- Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton looked on Sunday toward the next battles in a bruising White House race after Obama rolled to a huge win in a bitterly contested South Carolina primary.
Obama , an Illinois senator who would be the first black U.S. president, crushed Clinton in the latest showdown in a back-and-forth fight for the right to represent the Democratic Party in November's presidential election.
With heavy support from black voters, Obama doubled Clinton's tally to win 55 percent to 27 percent. John Edwards finished third with 18 percent in a state he won during his failed 2004 race, casting fresh doubt on the future of his campaign.
The win for Obama after two consecutive losses to Clinton, in New Hampshire and Nevada, gave him new momentum heading into February 5 "Super Tuesday" Democratic contests in 22 states. Obama won the first contest in Iowa.
"Tonight, the cynics who believed that what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good people of South Carolina," Obama told a cheering crowd in Columbia, the state capital.
"In nine short days, nearly half the nation will have the chance to join us in saying that we are tired of business-as-usual in Washington, we are hungry for change, and we are ready to believe again," he said.
Obama left South Carolina immediately after his victory to fly to Georgia, a state that votes on February 5. Clinton left before the votes were even tallied to fly to Tennessee, another February 5 state.
"Now the eyes of the country turn to Tennessee and the other states that will be voting on February 5," she said in Nashville. "Millions and millions of Americans will have the chance to have their voices heard and their votes counted."
Obama offered a fresh jab at Clinton's attack on his statement that Republicans had been "the party of ideas" in recent years, saying it was evidence of what was wrong with Washington.
"It's the kind of partisanship where you're not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea -- even if it's one you never agreed with," Obama said. "That kind of politics is bad for our party, it's bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all."
The high stakes in South Carolina fueled a week of angry accusations and increasingly personal jabs between the two candidates, capped by a volley of attacks on Obama from Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, and questions about the role of race.
Exit polls showed Obama won four of every five black voters, who made up more than half of the primary electorate. He also won one-quarter of white votes, higher than many had predicted. Edwards and Clinton split the remaining white vote.
Bill Clinton's attacks on Obama appeared to hurt his wife, exit polls showed. About six of every 10 primary voters said his campaigning was important to their votes. Obama won 47 percent of those, while Hillary Clinton won 38 percent.
Obama also won more than half of the voters who decided in the last 24 hours, the exit polls showed.
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator and the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, had chastised his two rivals for their squabbling and portrayed himself as the grown-up in the contests, but he was beaten badly in the state of his birth.
It was his third consecutive third-place finish after a second-place showing in Iowa, but he said he would push on to the next round of voting.
"Now the three of us move on to February 5 where millions of Americans will cast their vote and help shape the future of this party and help shape the future of America," Edwards told supporters in Columbia.
A record-smashing turnout of more than 500,000 people cast ballots in the first Democratic primary in the South.
The Republican presidential contenders, who held their primary in South Carolina last week, are focused on Florida's critical Tuesday primary.
Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are in a tight race in Florida after splitting contests last week -- McCain won South Carolina and Romney won Michigan and Nevada. A new Reuters/C-SPAN/ Zogby poll showed the two deadlocked at 30 percent each in Florida.