After cruising to victory in South Carolina Saturday, Democrat Hillary Clinton will ride a wave of momentum into next month’s gauntlet of presidential primaries in North Carolina and across the country.
Clinton not only beat U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont handily but won a measure of redemption in the state that helped sink her campaign eight years ago.
Now the presidential campaign shifts into hyperdrive, with a dozen contests on Tuesday and another eight before North Carolina votes on March 15.
Clinton carried all 46 South Carolina counties, winning as much as 91 percent of the vote in some counties. Statewide, she won by nearly 50 percentage points.
In picking up most of the state’s 53 delegates, she added to an already-wide lead that gives her a big edge in the race for the Democratic nomination.
“Today we sent a message,” she told cheering supporters at the University of South Carolina’s Volleyball Center in Columbia. “In America, when we stand together, there is no barrier too big to break.… And tomorrow, this campaign goes national.”
Alluding to Republican front-runner Donald Trump, she said, “Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great again.
“America has never stopped being great. But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn told the rally that South Carolinians “have started Hillary Clinton on the way to the White House.”
Sanders, who consistently trailed in polls, had literally moved on. He spent the day campaigning in Texas before flying to Minnesota. His only victory so far has come in New Hampshire.
“This campaign is just beginning,” Sanders said in a statement. “We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire. She won a decisive victory in South Carolina. Now it’s on to Super Tuesday.”
But Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political scientist, said the next few weeks are critical for the Sanders campaign.
He said Sanders “has got to be strategic in where he picks his fights. If he can’t win anything, it’s going to be hard to keep his momentum going.”
The firewall held
South Carolina was always Clinton’s firewall.
After close wins in Iowa and Nevada, and a big loss in New Hampshire, her campaign saw the Palmetto State and its large population of African-American voters as a slingshot into Super Tuesday.
According to exit polls, more than 60 percent of Saturday’s voters were African-American – even more than in 2008 when Barack Obama ran. Black voters broke for Clinton more than 5-1.
In North Carolina, about a third of eligible voters are black.
Exit polls in South Carolina also showed that the economy was the top concern of almost four in 10 voters. Clinton got 70 percent of their vote. She also beat Sanders among people who said income inequality – Sanders’ centerpiece issue – was their biggest worry.
It was a far cry from 2008, when South Carolina helped start Clinton’s fall and Obama’s rise. Though she led the polls for months, she saw her double-digit lead melt away as Obama’s support grew, particularly among African-Americans. After racially charged remarks by Bill Clinton, a “truth squad” shadowed the former president around the state.
But this year, Hillary Clinton wrapped herself in Obama’s record as she piled up endorsements from most of the state’s black lawmakers including Clyburn, the only South Carolina Democrat in Congress.
That made a difference for Geraldine Brown of Rock Hill, who voted for Obama in 2008.
“I wanted Obama then and I want Hillary now,” said Brown, 69. “I think they’re going to continue some of the things he initiated and failed on because of our ‘say-no’ Congress.”
Retiree Gene Bobrow, 63, of Columbia, voted for Clinton partly to make sure a Democrat can win in November.
“I am really worried that all the progress made in the last eight years (under Obama) is going to get ripped apart if a Republican gets in,” he said. “I know Hillary can beat the pants off of any of them.
Competing for N.C. support
Now the contests come in bunches. Both campaigns already are gearing up their efforts in North Carolina. Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director, Saturday called North Carolina “a particularly competitive place.”
“The demographics politically have changed so much in the last 15 years,” she said. “It’s going to be a very intriguing race, a very competitive one.”
Clinton’s campaign opened a Charlotte headquarters last week. It scheduled Saturday canvassing and election watch events in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh. On Sunday, dozens of volunteers are expected to man Charlotte phone banks.
As she did in South Carolina, Clinton has amassed endorsements. She has the backing of 44 of the General Assembly’s 61 Democratic lawmakers, including all Democratic women.
“We’ve been ramping up efforts here over the past month,” said Micah Beasley, Clinton’s state spokesman. “We’re really encouraged by the enthusiasm we’re finding on the ground. What this is about is reaching as many voters as we can.”
The Sanders campaign, meanwhile, will hold a rally in Asheville and open a headquarters in Durham on Sunday. An online sign-up said, “This is a political revolution that starts with our community members. Join us in this revolution …”
Recent polls show Clinton with a nearly 19-point lead in North Carolina, according to Real Clear Politics.
Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist from Raleigh who supports Clinton, said Sanders hasn’t broken through with minority voters.
“His vote is primarily a white vote,” Pearce said. “And there aren’t enough white votes to nominate a Democrat let alone elect one.”
Bitzer said if Saturday’s trend continues into the coming primaries, it will be hard for Sanders in North Carolina.
“Coming out of Super Tuesday, if there’s a mark of inevitability behind Clinton, the best Sanders can do here is a respectable showing,” he said. “North Carolina is not like South Carolina, but it’s not like New Hampshire (where Sanders won). It’s kind of in the middle.”
State Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat and author of “Tar Heel Politics,” said he hasn’t see much public activity in Durham yet for either Sanders or Clinton.
Forty years ago, Luebke co-founded the People’s Alliance, the area’s largest liberal group. This year, he said, it has endorsed for every office – state Attorney General Roy Cooper for governor on down – but it was mum on president.
“The organization is divided (between Sanders and Clinton).… It’s saying vote for who you want. Both candidates are acceptable.”
Luebke said he has no plans to endorse either. “My constituents are split. They don’t need an opinion from me.”
William Douglas of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed.
S.C. Democratic primary results
98.8 percent of precincts reporting