Hillary Clinton moved one step closer to closing the door on Sen. Bernie Sanders’s insurgent presidential campaign Saturday night with a massive 53-point win over Sanders in the South Carolina Democratic primary, 76 percent to 23 percent.
Clinton owed much of her victory Saturday to minority voters in South Carolina, where she won African Americans by 68 points, 84 percent to 16 percent, including 96 percent of African-American voters over 65 who went for the former Secretary of State almost unanimously.
At her victory party in Columbia, S.C., Clinton told supporters, “You sent a message that when we stand together there is no barrier too big to break,” she said. “Tomorrow this campaign goes national. We are not taking anything, and we’re not taking anyone, for granted.”
Perhaps sensing the blowout coming for him, Sanders had moved on to Texas Saturday morning by the time South Carolina voting began. Shortly after the polls closed, the Sanders campaign released a written statement declaring that the race is only just beginning, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. “Our grassroots political revolution is growing state by state, and we won’t stop now,” Sanders said.
Saturday marked a major reversal of fortunes for Clinton, who lost the South Carolina primary to Barack Obama by a two-to-one margin in 2008 and lost this year’s New Hampshire primary to Sanders by 20 points just three weeks ago.
The Clinton campaign now hopes to use the South Carolina showing to propel Clinton to even larger victories in Super Tuesday states like Georgia, Alabama, and Texas, which are not only rich in delegates, but also have diverse electorates that look less like mostly-white Iowa and New Hampshire and more like the one in South Carolina, where African Americans made up a majority of Democratic primary voters.
Knowing she could change the message to the Sanders campaign from “I’m winning” to “You’re dead,’ Clinton never stopped campaigning in South Carolina, despite polls that showed her anywhere from 20 to 50 points ahead of Sanders there. When she wasn’t in the Palmetto State, Clinton was in other Super Tuesday states, like Georgia, where she now stands to run up the score against Sanders, as well as the number of delegates she’ll collect in the proportional allocation system Democrats adopted for 2016.
At a rally Friday at Atlanta’s City Hall, Clinton described her leadership as a way to continue the legacy of Barack Obama, who remains overwhelmingly popular with Democrats in Georgia. “I want to build on and secure the progress President Obama has made and take it even further,” Clinton told supporters there.
That sounded good to Triana Arnold-James, an Army veteran and the current Mrs. Georgia, who stood at the Clinton rally complete with pageant sash and tiara. Arnold-James pointed to the GOP debate the night before as evidence that Clinton is the woman for the job of president. “I just saw Rubio and Cruz attacking Trump, who I call ‘Hashtag Angry White Man,’” she said. “And that convinced me that we need to keep moving forward instead of going backward. And I believe Hillary will take us forward.”
In her speech, Clinton also made a direct appeal to issues traditionally important to the African-American community, particularly those in the South, like civil rights, voting rights, and combatting gun violence.
But Clinton's work remains unfinished when it comes to uniting African Americans behind her, particularly young black voters who have mobilized behind the Black Lives Matter movement and say they still haven't heard enough from Clinton to convince them she‘s committed to their cause. Even at her rally in Atlanta, it was clear the Clinton campaign is struggling to receive and respond to the message.
When Ashonda Husbands, an 18-year-old student at Georgia State University, wrote “Black Lives Matter” on the back of a “Ready 4 Hillary” poster the campaign gave her on the way into the event, she said a uniformed officer removed her from the rally before Clinton spoke. Her friend, Meagan Mwanda, who is also a student ay Georgia State, wrote, “I am not a super-predator” on a piece of typing paper and was also taken out. Both young women said they were surprised and disappointed.
“This is an issue I’m concerned about and want to have a clear understanding of how the candidates feel about it,” Husbands said. “I think it’s pretty clear.”
But even Husbands and Mwanda said they’d still consider voting for Clinton and on Saturday, Clinton’s hold on the Democratic nomination began to look so secure her message had moved noticeably from primary to general election voters.
“Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great again,” she said, referring to the the slogan of the Donald Trump campaign that she could be facing in November. “America has never stopped being great.”