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With Little Suspense Regarding The Outcome, Democrats Head To The Polls In South Carolina

Democrats head to the polls in South Carolina today, indeed they’ve been voting for several hours now as of the time this post is being written, but the outcome is already certain:

The Democratic presidential contest has moved to South Carolina, where voters began casting their ballots Saturday in a primary that serves as two starkly different milestones for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Clinton is looking to her expected victory here to prove her strong support among African American voters — and to cement her status as the presumptive front-runner heading toward Super Tuesday three days later, when six of 11 Democratic contests will take place in Southern states with large populations of black voters.

Sanders spent much of the past week campaigning in other states — and attacking Clinton on an array of issues with new gusto. He is looking to contests that come after Tuesday, where he has more chance of winning — and a chance, he says, to hang onto the momentum and enthusiasm that his strong liberal message has generated in this unusual election year.

Both candidates are girding for a long primary fight that seemed far-fetched only a few months ago.

In an interview this week, San­ders acknowledged that South Carolina is a “hard state for us, no ifs, buts and maybes.”

“She has names of many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who supported her. You start off with that, you have those votes in the bank, and you go on,” Sanders said.

“You know what? I started off without one person voting for us. We have to earn every bloody vote, and that’s hard stuff. Hillary Clinton has very strong roots in the African American community. We have had to build those roots.”

Clinton began a barnstorming tour of South Carolina on Tuesday. She and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, crisscrossed the state on separate itineraries, hitting a total of about a dozen events over three days, speaking to predominantly African American audiences of a few hundred in cities and small towns. Each drew on decades of experience with the powerful church- and civic-based black voting turnout machine.

Although neither Clinton mentioned Sanders much, the nature of the events and the supporters who attended them illustrated how hard it will be for the socialist senator from Vermont to break a bond with black voters forged first by Bill Clinton.

“There are a lot of barriers, aren’t there?” Hillary Clinton said to nodding heads in tiny Kings­tree, S.C.

In Florence on Thursday, W.B. Wilson, a member of the local county council, shook his head when asked about Sanders.

“I am not familiar with him at all,” Wilson said.


Sanders insisted that he has not written off South Carolina, despite expectations that he will lose by double digits in a red state where black voters are likely to make up a majority of the electorate in the Democratic contest Saturday.

But after a news conference Wednesday morning in this capital city, Sanders left South Carolina for a 48-hour whirlwind through Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota. He returned Friday afternoon for a final push before voting begins at 7 a.m. Saturday.

Sanders drew large, enthusiastic crowds along the way, including close to 9,000 in Tulsa, more than 7,100 in Kansas City, Mo., about 3,600 in a suburb of Cleveland and more than 6,500 in Chicago.

Sanders bristled when asked this week whether his travel schedule was a de facto acknowledgment that he cannot win here.

“No, no, no, no, no,” he said, as two African American state lawmakers who joined him at a news conference shook their heads.

“We are fighting here in South Carolina as hard as we can,” he said, adding that Clinton just spent two days in California raising money. “I mean, she is not writing off the state.”

During her tour, Clinton billed herself as a unifier who would address the problems of South Carolina’s impoverished and under­educated. She name-checked local issues, trashed the Republican governor and wrapped her arms around locally prominent African American leaders.

A black pastor welcomed her to his church. A black woman in braids warmed up the crowd at an appearance to which Clinton arrived very late. The black mayor of Columbia introduced her at an event Wednesday and starred in an evocative television advertisement for Clinton, done in the form of a letter to his young daughters.

Five black women from around the country who lost children to gun violence or in police custody came to South Carolina to campaign for Clinton this week. The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and others sat alongside her on Tuesday for an emotional discussion of gun control and police misconduct.

Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said Sanders began legwork in the state in 2014 and attended a state party function last year that Clinton did not.

“He’s trying to figure out ways to break into, sort of, your middle-aged, senior citizen, African American community,” which is the mainstay of Clinton’s support, Harrison said.

“His challenge is nobody knew who Bernie Sanders was,” Harrison said. “And second, once he sufficiently has name ID, convincing people he’s the best person to carry water for them.”

Even Sanders’s biggest boosters in South Carolina are not defining a win as beating Clinton.

Justin T. Bamberg, one of six black South Carolina state lawmakers supporting Sanders, said that a loss by 10 to 15 percentage points would send a message that Sanders was competitive.

As thing stands, it seems entirely unlikely that Sanders will come anywhere near Bamberg’s goal of holding Clinton to a ten to fifteen point victory. All of the recent polling of the Democratic race in the Palmetto State has given Clinton a lead of between twenty-two and twenty-nine points with one poll from Clemson University that is in all probably an extreme outlier giving her a lead of fifty points, something she hasn’t seen in the state since polling began there back in February before the race had really begun. As things stand, the RealClearPolitics average puts Clinton at 58.3% to Sanders’ 31.7% for a lead of 26.6 points. In the Pollster average, Clinton’s lead is slightly smaller at 24.4 points but still indicative of what is likely to be a major Clinton victory tonight. Indeed, one suspects that the major networks and other press outlets will call the race for Clinton as soon as the clock strikes 7pm Eastern today and the polls in South Carolina close, the only question at that point will be the size of Clinton’s victory and whether Sanders does well enough to get even a single delegate out of the state.

The main reason for Clinton’s success in South Carolina, of course, is the strong support she is continuing to get from the African-American community, a decided change from 2008 when that voting bloc was loyally behind Barack Obama and helped propel him to victory not only in the Palmetto State but also across the country. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has almost no support among African-Americans. This explains not only why he is performing so badly in South Carolina, but why he is also likely to be decimated in the Super Tuesday and early March primaries across the South where Clinton is also expected to do quite well. That lack of support didn’t hurt Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, of course, because the minority populations of those states is much smaller than in the nation as a whole, and substantially smaller than in the states where the Democratic race is headed for the next several weeks and beyond. By the time that tour is over, Clinton will have built up such a substantial lead in the delegate count that the race will, effectively, be over.

Given the polls, it seems almost redundant to make a projection, but I’ll put myself out there and say that Clinton wins by more than 25 points and picks up all, or substantially all, of the 59 delegates up for grabs tonight. In any case, though, there’s not really any point in planning to watch the returns tonight unless you’re a real politics nerd. The outcome is basically certain, and the “suspense” of calling a winner will last from roughly 7:00pm to 7:00.59pm. From there, it’s on to Super Tuesday and what’s likely to be another difficult night for Senator Sanders.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Pch101 says:

    If Clinton fails to win at least 1,253 of the 1,004 delegates that are in play on Super Tuesday, then it will prove that she lacks the mandate that Sanders has to win the nomination.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  2. R.Dave says:

    Yeah, I get that the demographics of upcoming primaries favor Clinton, but Nevada wasn’t a blowout by any stretch, so it’s not like Sanders can’t pull non-white votes. SC may be a done deal, but I’m not at all convinced that the later races in states with a larger Hispanic than black minority block are likewise forgone conclusions. Also, the primary count thus far is basically 1-1-1, so it’s rather premature to stick a fork in this thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  3. jd says:

    @Pch101: “1,253 of the 1,004 delegates”

    That’s getting mighty close to 100%

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. Pch101 says:


    Unless she wins well over 100% of the delegates, Clinton cannot possibly pretend that she has the support of Democratic voters. She’s a DINO!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. HarvardLaw92 says:


    If I keep believing hard enough, unicorns can be real!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. george says:

    The point isn’t for Sanders to win the nomination – he has no chance. The point is to keep the Democratic nomination in the news (a coronation wouldn’t do that), and to pull Clinton away from Wall Street, foreign adventures, and other elements of her politics that many in the Democratic Party are against.

    Clinton winning is good. Sanders giving her a tough fight is also good. This is win-win, there’s no downside to Sanders fighting her all the way to the convention, and a lot of upside.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Preliminary exit polling indicates that African-Americans represented 62% of all Democratic primary voters in SC, which if accurate shatters the previous record of 55% set in 2008.

    More telling, Clinton (again, if accurate) took women voters 74% to 26% and African-American voters 84% to 16%.

    If these results are indicative of Super Tuesday states, and there’s reason to believe that they will be, Sanders is as good as done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Kari Q says:

    He is, I believe we had a bet. Instead of a tip, I propose a donation to a charity. Perhaps the Red Cross?

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  9. HarvardLaw92 says:

    With 95% of precincts reporting, Clinton’s margin of victory in SC stands at 48 points. No way for BernieBots to spin that as anything other than near complete rejection of their candidate.

    I suspect she’s going to keep cleaning his clock through March 15th.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    with one poll from Clemson University that is in all probably an extreme outlier giving her a lead of fifty points

    Looks like Clemson is the only poll that came close to getting it right

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Kari Q says:

    @Kari Q:

    Jenos, that is. Not “he is.”

    In the comments on an earlier article we agreed to a bet. I said Hillary would win by more than 15 points.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. Jim says:

    That thing in Bernie’s back, its a fork.

    If Clinton continues to come close to the margins she’s maintaining with African Americans and women, there is no way for Sanders to win southern primaries and those in the industrial midwest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0