Hillary Clinton’s campaign had a rocky start in the Democratic nominating contests with a narrow victory in Iowa and a thorough drubbing by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. But she scored a clear win in Nevada last week and then racked up an even bigger margin over Sanders in South Carolina on Saturday.
Clinton hopes momentum from the dominating performance carries her through Super Tuesday next week, when Democrats cast ballots in 11 states and one territory, and on to her party’s presidential nomination. "Tomorrow, this campaign goes national!" Clinton said to big applause Saturday night in Columbia. "We are going to compete for every vote in every state. We are not taking anything and we're not taking anyone for granted."
A few takeaways from South Carolina:
Clinton quashed doubts about her support from minority voters
Nevada's caucuses last week offered the first test of which Democratic candidate could win Latino voters, but a muddled collection of entrance and exit polls failed to provide a conclusive answer. That wasn't the case in South Carolina with black voters. They clearly favored Clinton, often by wide margins in polls before the primary, and helped her run up the numbers on Saturday. Clinton won about 85% of black voters, who made up roughly two-thirds of the primary electorate, according to an exit poll that included nearly 1,400 voters.
Over and over before the primary, black voters expressed loyalty to Clinton, often citing affection for her husband, former President Clinton. While black voters are especially important in South Carolina, they’re also a key part of Democrats’ national coalition. Expect Clinton’s team to argue that Sanders can’t be the nominee if he can’t win them over.
All is forgiven after the bruising 2008 primary battle between Clinton and Obama
Eight years ago, black voters sided with then-Sen. Barack Obama after a divisive contest in South Carolina, delivering a humbling blow to Clinton. But there seemed to be few hard feelings in this year’s primary.
“The spat in 2008 was more like a family squabble, and the sides made up,” said Scott Huffmon, a political science professor who runs Winthrop University’s polling operation.
Clinton, who spent four years as Obama’s secretary of State, overtly embraced the president in her campaign, which didn’t go unnoticed by South Carolina’s black voters. Many said they felt she was the best candidate to carry on the legacy of the country’s first black president. The feeling among many black voters was summed up by Charleston resident Paceta Powell on Saturday, who said, "It's Hillary's turn now.”
A long battle for the nomination might still lie ahead
Sanders spent little time in South Carolina in the closing days of the campaign. Instead, he hopscotched among Oklahoma, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota, states that hold nominating contests on March 1 or March 15. On Saturday he was in Texas and back in Minnesota for more rallies.
The travel schedule shows Sanders is already looking past Saturday to other places where he can pick up more delegates and keep his campaign rolling. Sanders has repeatedly said he plans to keep pushing all the way into the summer, and he might have the cash to do it. Sanders has relied on a vast number of low-dollar donors who could keep chipping in money that would keep him afloat.
"Let me be clear on one thing tonight," Sanders said in a statement conceding in South Carolina. "This campaign is just beginning."
Follow @chrismegerian for more updates.
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