Bernie Sanders predicted Tuesday he will “surprise people” in the South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary in 10 days.
The U.S. senator from Vermont reminded the mostly African-American audience at a prayer breakfast that he closed a wide deficit in Iowa, nearly tying Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, and pulled off a historic rout in New Hampshire.
“In South Carolina, I don’t know how far behind we started,” Sanders joked to applause.
Despite his enthusiastic supporters, S.C. Democrats are not feeling “the Bern.”
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Sanders’ visit Tuesday was his first to the state since mid-January. And while his campaign has won the support of some African-Americans – a key to winning the state’s Feb. 27 primary – it has not won over enough, some political experts say.
“He’s making inroads with African-Americans but much more slowly than a lot of his team thought would happen – and certainly more slowly than he needs to win,” said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon.
Instead of South Carolina, Sanders is focusing more of his time on other later-voting, less-diverse states – including Nevada, where Sanders is vying to show Saturday that he is electable among Hispanics. And that could be a smart strategy, political experts said.
With a 23-point lead over Sanders, according to an average of recent polls, Clinton, too, has made spent little time in the state, visiting only once in almost a month.
Where the two candidates went in their one recent visit each to the state says volumes about their campaigns.
Last week, Clinton campaigned in rural Denmark, a town in the predominantly black, high-poverty Bamberg County. There, in an effort to solidify her lead, she promised she would continue President Barack Obama’s legacy while casting doubt on Sanders’ commitment to doing the same.
Meanwhile, Sanders, who has run well in university towns, spent Tuesday in Columbia — at an Allen University prayer breakfast and the University of South Carolina — before going to Charleston.
Sanders’ quick S.C. visit was on his way to an event at historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta – part of his effort to reach, in one place, millennials, which back him overwhelmingly, and African-Americans, who prefer Clinton.
‘Nothing that’s impossible’
Sanders has not given up his ground game in South Carolina.
On Wednesday, his campaign will launch a six-figure ad buy in South Carolina and nationally. A new TV ad features Erica Garner, the daughter of New Yorker Eric Garner, who died while in police custody.
Sanders’ S.C. campaign also has about 160 part-time staffers – paid $15 an hour, in line with his proposed minimum wage – and 50 full-time campaign aides, state director Chris Covert said.
To compete, Clinton’s campaign increased its get-out-the-vote efforts this week, including opening new offices and increasing its paid staff to 100.
Sanders’ supporters at Tuesday’s prayer breakfast knew their candidate faces an uphill challenge.
“There’s nothing that’s impossible,” said Barbara Dinkins, 57, of Camden.
“Clinton has done a lot ... but I think it’s time for a real change,” said Dinkins, adding Sanders “started at the bottom, so he knows where we are, knows what we need.”
Other Sanders’ supporters were less optimistic about his chances.
“The time frame is kind of short” to push Sanders to a win, said Tylan Jennings, an Allen senior who learned about Sanders through his fraternity. “Hillary’s name was already out there.”
Sanders has ‘better shot of winning Nevada’
Sanders’ campaign has been pushing the narrative that it has momentum.
The senator has more than doubled his support among African-American voters. In November, Sanders had 11 percent support from black S.C. Democrats. Now, he’s at 23 percent.
But now that Sanders is better known in the state, it is getting harder for him to build that support more quickly, Huffmon said, likening it to a race across flat lands that suddenly hits a steep hill.
“I have no doubt that he’ll close the gap, but I doubt whether it will be enough to win.”
In a poll taken Sunday and Monday, Sanders trailed Clinton by 40 percentage points among African-Americans, who likely will make up more than half of the voters heading to the polls Feb. 27.
The race still could change – it’s politics, said Kyle Kondik, with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
A loss for Clinton in South Carolina would be an “utter catastrophe” for the front-runner, Kondik said, adding winning by “single digits” would be a disappointment.
The way the race stands now, South Carolina should be one of Clinton’s best performances, he added.
“Clinton looks pretty solid with black voters right now.” Kondik said. “For Sanders, he’s probably better off focusing on some of these other contests on March 1,” states — like including Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Virginia — where the demographics look more like New Hampshire than South Carolina, he said.
Sanders has been campaigning hard in Nevada, spending some of the money that he has raised through his grassroots campaign on ads, trying to peel off Hispanic votes.
That’s a good strategy, Kondik and Huffmon said.
“Sanders folks believe, rightly, that they have a better shot of winning in Nevada,” Kondik said.
“If Sanders can do well in Nevada among Hispanic caucus-goers, that could blunt him doing poorly” among African-Americans in the South.
“If he can do well there, even if he loses here, he can say, ‘Look, Hillary doesn’t have the diverse vote locked up.’ ”
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has led in every poll of the S.C. primary – 25 since October. Here’s how the race is shaping up in South Carolina, according to an average of S.C. polls:
Hillary Clinton: 59 percent
Bernie Sanders: 36 percent
Clinton’s largest lead, in late July, early August: 70 points
Clinton’s most narrow lead, in two polls taken this month, including one released Tuesday: 18 points
Source: Real Clear Politics
Two new polls give Trump, Clinton SC leads
Poll taken Feb. 10-15
Donald Trump: 38 percent
Ted Cruz: 22 percent
Marco Rubio: 14 percent
Jeb Bush: 10 percent
Ben Carson: 6 percent
John Kasich: 4 percent
Hillary Clinton: 56 percent
Bernie Sanders: 38 percent
American Research Group
Poll taken Feb. 14-16
Trump: 33 percent
Rubio: 16 percent
Cruz: 14 percent
Kasich: 14 percent
Bush: 9 percent
Carson: 3 percent
Clinton: 61 percent
Sanders: 31 percent