Clinton powers ahead with South Carolina win

Mrs Hillary Clinton's efforts to appeal to black voters paid off in the South Carolina primary.
Mrs Hillary Clinton's efforts to appeal to black voters paid off in the South Carolina primary.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Democratic Party nomination as good as hers now, after big margin of victory over Sanders

When the Democratic Party officially names its presidential nominee in July, both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders will likely look back at the South Carolina primary as the race that tilted the balance in her favour.

Last Saturday, Mrs Clinton crushed her rival by 73.5 per cent to 26 per cent: a result so one-sided it surpassed the win then Senator Barack Obama scored over her in 2008. The larger-than-expected margin of victory looks to have confirmed Mrs Clinton as the Democratic Party candidate in all but name.

Analysts agree it will now take a monumental collapse for the Clinton campaign to fritter away its lead.


"The win has given Hillary a lot of momentum going into Super Tuesday," said Dr Bruce Ransom, a political science professor at Clemson University in South Carolina. "I don't want to close the door on anyone but it will be a real struggle for Sanders now."

With just two days separating South Carolina and Super Tuesday - the single biggest day in the primary race - Mr Sanders is left with little time to pick up the pieces. Many of the south-eastern states voting on March 1 have diverse Democratic Party voter populations that look more like South Carolina than the predominantly-white early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. If the minority vote in those states breaks in the same way it did last Saturday, Mr Sanders could be in for another painful night.

In South Carolina, he lost every voter demographic, but his numbers among black voters were especially bleak. Exit polls showed that black voters supported Mrs Clinton over him by a margin of six to one.

"I don't think it's about his policies. He has a lot of policies that will help the black community," said Dr Ransom. "It's likely that they just don't see him as very electable."

In the weeks leading up to the contest, Mrs Clinton has focused especially hard on appealing to black voters, believing - rightly, as it turned out - that they would be her firewall to stop Mr Sanders' insurgent campaign in the south.

In particular, she focused on embracing Mr Obama's presidency and portraying herself as the best person to continue his legacy.

Though she was in a bruising battle with Mr Obama in 2008, her subsequent support of him and her decision to accept a position in his Cabinet were seen as important gestures that helped put her back on the right side of black voters.

Mr Sanders, who is running on a platform of starting a political revolution, could not embrace the sitting President as effectively.

Mrs Clinton had also campaigned in South Carolina together with five women who were mothers of victims of police violence. And she gave a well-received nod to the five in her victory speech.

"We have to invest in communities of colour, reform our broken criminal justice and immigration system. We have to guarantee opportunity, dignity and justice for every American. And tonight I want to pay tribute to five extraordinary women who criss-crossed this state with me and for me," she said to loud applause.

While her campaign staff has started talking about the end of the Democratic Party race, Mrs Clinton made it clear she was taking nothing for granted. "Tomorrow, this campaign goes national. We are going to compete for every vote in every state. We are not taking anything, and we're not taking anyone, for granted."

Mr Sanders did not wait for the outcome in South Carolina. As the results were being released, he was on a plane to a rally in Minnesota, where he hopes to do well. A statement from his camp made it clear he remained committed to the campaign.

"Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just beginning. We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire. She won a decisive victory in South Carolina. Now it's on to Super Tuesday," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'Clinton powers ahead with South Carolina win'. Print Edition | Subscribe