Hillary Clinton is projected to score a big victory over Bernie Sanders in South Carolina Saturday, putting her on a two-state winning streak when she was able to capitalize on a diverse electorate.
Clinton’s appeal to black voters was key in the state. Six in 10 Democratic primary voters were African American, according to early exit polls, the Associated Press reported. Despite Sanders’ efforts to make inroads in the African-American community, he was unable to truly tighten the race. Exit polls suggested that Clinton won eight in 10 of black voters, according to the AP. After her solid victory in the Latino-rich state of Nevada, Clinton’s success in South Carolina solidifies her argument that she has a support base that is more diverse than Sanders’ and thus a stronger candidate for the general election.
Clinton was projected the winner of the primary by the networks just after 7 p.m. EST, when the polls closed.
“Today you sent a message in America when we stand together — when we stand together, there is no barrier too big to break,” Clinton said at her victory speech Saturday evening.
“We are going to compete for every vote, in every state. We are not taking anything, and we’re not taking anyone for granted,” she said.
To South Carolina, to the volunteers at the heart of our campaign, to the supporters who power it: thank you. -H pic.twitter.com/JFTUZ2yBxf
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 28, 2016
After Sanders’ landslide win in New Hampshire, which followed his strong showing in Iowa where he nearly upset Clinton, the pressure was on Clinton to stymie his momentum. The night of her New Hampshire loss, her campaign even blasted out a memo stressing the importance of the primaries that come in March in effort to regain control of the narrative.
Her win in Nevada last Saturday helped shift that narrative back in her favor. But Sanders still did better than what would have been expected a months ago in the state, so Clinton went into South Carolina looking to run him off entirely.
Sanders issued a statement after the race was called congratulating Clinton on her victory, while promising, “This campaign is just beginning.”
She came to South Carolina with many advantages. Clinton had received the endorsements of Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and other black leaders. Going into election day, Clinton was leading Sanders 60.4 percent to 25.9 percent in the TPM PollTracker Average.
Sanders, however, had a few notable endorsements from members of the African-American community, and particularly from figures in the Black Lives Matter movement. Nevertheless, by election night, he wasn’t planning on being in South Carolina the night of the primary. According to MSNBC, he was in the air when the results were expected to come in.
The state has been the site of high-profile tragedies that prompted debates over racial injustice and Confederate iconography, from the killing of an unarmed black man named Walter Scott by a white police officer to the shooting in an African-American church by a white supremacist that left nine parishioners dead.
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC)
The importance of black voters going into South Carolina’s primary was evident in the candidates’ focus on issues like criminal justice reform, police brutality and even the water crisis in majority-black Flint, Michigan. Sanders in particular has had to retool his platform so that it spoke to racial injustice directly, rather than just under the umbrella of economic inequality, the topic that has animated his campaign. Both candidates, however, received a fair amount of pushback from activists. Clinton, for instance, was confronted by a Black Lives Matter protester at a South Carolina event.
Clinton’s victory speech was tailored to the black voters who carried her in South Carolina. She stressed the need “to face the reality of systemic racism” and referenced by name the mothers of unarmed African-Americans who were killed in recent years.
“We can build ladders of opportunity and empowerment, so every single American can have that chance to live up to his or her god-given potential,” she said. “And then, then and only then can America live up to its full potential, too.”
She also pivoted towards a potential general election where she would be facing Donald Trump.
“Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great. America has never stopped being great,” she said. “But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers. We need to show by everything we do that we really are in this together. “
The wind is at her back now going into Super Tuesday. In races in Texas, Georgia and Virginia, Clinton looks poised to rake in a rich delegate count, in part because of the broad support from diverse Democratic constituencies she has proven in Nevada and South Carolina.
The path to victory for Sanders has narrowed considerably, as he has been unable to expand his base beyond the white voters that propelled him in Iowa and New Hampshire. Vermont will obviously offer Sanders a hometown advantage and the terrain is friendly for him in Massachusetts as well. He will also be betting on Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma to keep him competitive with Clinton as the race goes on.