The firewall held.
For the second straight contest, Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders, winning the South Carolina primary on Saturday. The networks called the election as the polls closed at 7 p.m., and Clinton was set to win by a huge margin—more than 47 percent, with almost all the votes counted.
The victory all but clears the way for Clinton to coast to the Democratic nomination. Clinton has won three of the first four nominating contests. The first was ever-so-close, and the second was an enormous Sanders win, but in Nevada and South Carolina, Clinton first steadied her campaign and then won decisively, and she goes to Tuesday’s large slate of primaries and caucuses with strong momentum. In her remarks in Columbia, Clinton seemed to declare the primary battle over, and she began looking ahead to the general-election battle.
“Today you sent a message that in America when we stand together there is no barrier too big to break,” she said. “We’ve now gone through four early states. I want to congratulate Senator Sanders on running a great race. Tomorrow this campaign goes national!”
She previewed a message for running against Donald Trump, reflecting his ascendancy in the Republican Party.
“Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great again. America never stopped being great,” Clinton said. “But, we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers.”
Clinton’s victory in South Carolina is in large part a product of her success in courting African American voters, who made up some six in 10 of those casting ballots, according to exit polls. In 2008, black voters carried Senator Barack Obama to a huge win over her, but she was able win them back, in part on her promises of continuing the president’s policies and her close association with him. Exit polls show Clinton won a stunning 84 percent of African Americans. (Black voters made up 62 percent of the vote, even higher than 2008’s 55 percent—perhaps mostly a sign of Southern whites leaving the Democratic Party.)
Sanders, meanwhile, seems to be discovering the limitations of the coalition that gave him a huge victory in New Hampshire and almost delivered him an upset in Iowa. Where there are high concentrations of white, liberal voters, Sanders runs very strongly, but in states like South Carolina and Nevada where Democrats are a more diverse bunch, he has struggled.
Clinton and Sanders tried very different approaches to courting the black vote. It was a battle between Sanders’s abstraction and Clinton’s specificity. Sanders was joined by high-profile black surrogates, including Ben Jealous, Danny Glover, and Killer Mike, but he mostly stuck to the huge rallies that have powered his campaign elsewhere, while talking at length about issues of racial justice.
Clinton, meanwhile, collected the endorsement of popular Representative Jim Clyburn. She barnstormed across the state doing a slew of small events, as did her husband Bill Clinton—who black South Carolinians seem to have forgiven for his catastrophic stumping in 2008 on her behalf. Clinton courted the black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. And the mothers of African American victims of violence—including Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland—held small grassroots events in the state. During the most emotional moment in her victory speech Saturday, Clinton praised those women, saying they had “channeled their sadness into a strategy and their mourning into a movement.”
It wasn’t just black voters that made the difference on Saturday. Exit polls showed that young voters, among whom Sanders has built his base, didn’t show up in great numbers. (Even black voters younger than 30, among whom Sanders was expected to do better, went for Clinton 56-44 in preliminary exit polls.) The people who did come out said that they wanted a nominee who would continue Barack Obama’s work, rather than favoring the more liberal approach Sanders espouses.
With Saturday’s results, Clinton extends her huge delegate lead in the Democratic race. Most of her edge has been built on the large number of “superdelegates” who have committed to support her, while the two candidates were running more or less even on regular, pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses. Clinton now has an edge on pledged delegates as well, though proportional splitting means Sanders also won some, and her lead in that tally is still small.
The result in South Carolina doesn’t seal the race for Clinton. But the problem for Sanders looking forward is that many of the states voting on March 1—Super Tuesday—look more like South Carolina than they do like New Hampshire. Sanders has been campaigning hard in Minnesota and Massachusetts, in particular, states where his campaign thinks it has a good chance. (In fact, as South Carolina slipped from his grasp this week, Sanders spent a great deal of time campaigning in Super Tuesday states rather than in the Palmetto State.)
Unless Sanders is able to learn some concrete lessons from Saturday’s primary, and unless he’s able to find a way to change the recent trend, his chance at winning the nomination will dwindle quickly. Sanders has vowed to continue his fight. His aides note that Clinton didn’t drop out after losing South Carolina in 2008, and they see two close contests so far and one huge win for each candidate. The enormous crowds he’s able to draw across the nation show there’s a willing audience. But the results in primaries and caucuses suggest that while Sanders has the firepower to shift the rhetoric and focus of the nomination battle, it’s simply not a large enough slice of the Democratic electorate to win the nod.
A week ago in South Carolina, it was a very different scene. Donald Trump won decisively, with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio close behind. On the eve of the election, one pro-Cruz group hit Trump for supporting the removal of the Confederate flag—a charge they expected to cost him votes. Only 1 percent of voters in the Republican primary were black.
There are many reasons for Clinton’s win tonight, but her margin appears much larger than polling averages predicted. And it’s possible that the outcome a week ago, followed by Trump’s win in Nevada, gave many Democratic voters pause about gambling on a less-experienced candidate, or inclined them toward backing someone who may be less exciting but seems comfortably familiar.
Donald Trump, in other words, hasn’t just shaken up the Republican race—he may be making his impact felt on the other side of the aisle, too.
Clinton’s communications director, Jen Palmieri, told me the campaign is looking ahead to a “long process” and expects Sanders to be in the race for a long time to come thanks to the major financial resources he commands.
Much of Clinton’s speech seemed directed at Donald Trump and the Republicans, particularly the parts about defeating divisiveness. I asked Palmieri whether the campaign was excited about running against Trump, who many Republicans believe would be a weak general-election candidate. “It'll be hard,” she said, because Trump is an “unpredictable and unconventional” candidate.
In her speech, Clinton cited a Bible passage from First Corinthians that will be familiar to anyone who has attended a Christian wedding: “Love never fails, it tells us. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. These are words to live by, not only for ourselves but also for our country.” She also repeatedly invoked the phrase “love and kindness,” a mantra she has been using on the campaign trail. I didn’t hear Clinton use the phrase until after Buzzfeed published this feature from Ruby Cramer. It’s worth a read.
Clinton said she wants to “pay tribute” to “five extraordinary women”—the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland—who campaigned for her in South Carolina in recent days. David wrote about the group’s work on Clinton's behalf this week.
Clinton’s message tonight: We’re all in this together. Americans will strengthen families and communities by working together “with more love and kindness in our hearts and more respect for each other even when we disagree,” she said. “Despite what you hear, we don’t need to make America great again. America has never stopped being great.” But it can be made “whole again,” with the following improvements: rein in corporate America; create better jobs; break down economic barriers for people, especially women; improve education; confront systemic racism; and the list goes on.
Updated SC exits w/final interviews give Clinton even BIGGER lead among AfAm vote (87-13) and she now LEADS among white Dems (53-47). Wow— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) February 28, 2016
Age has been the biggest dividing line in this Democratic primary campaign—looming even larger than other distinctions like race, gender, education, or income. Sanders has drawn extraordinary levels of support from younger voters and did again tonight. He carried young white voters 78 to 22 percent, a margin similar to those he amassed in other early primary states. But overall, he took voters under the age of 30 by only 63 to 37 over Clinton.
The difference was black voters. ABC reports that Clinton carried black voters under the age of 30 by a 57 to 43 margin—that’s far less than her 84 to 16 margin among all black voters, but still a decisive win. Equally unnerving for the Sanders camp? The 22 percent of voters who described themselves as “very liberal” broke for Clinton, backing her 61 to 38 percent.
If Bernie can’t win big among young voters, can’t break through among black voters, and can’t even win over the very liberal—it’s hard to imagine any path to the nomination.
Jim Clyburn is speaking at the HIllary event. “Tonight, the Democratic voters of South Carolina have rendered a significant verdict,” he says. Clyburn, the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, didn’t endorse a candidate in 2008, symbolizing the African American community's struggle to decide between their affection for the Clintons and Barack Obama’s history-making appeal. But this year, he backed Clinton. “We have started Hillary Clinton on the way to the White House,” he says.
Per CNN, Clinton came away with 53 percent of the vote in South Carolina with 17 to 44 year olds—a troubling number for Sanders who has gained the most ground among the younger demographic. Assuming a portion of of that is the minority vote, it’s particularly troubling for the Vermont senator going into Super Tuesday. Several states with their contests then have a considerable number of minorities that are expected to benefit Clinton, while Sanders hinges on the vote of those under 45 as he did in the Nevada Democratic caucuses. These numbers show a different outcome.
As I mentioned earlier, Sanders is en route to Minnesota, a Super Tuesday state. His team released a statement minutes ago to congratulate his rival. The message: Tonight doesn’t hurt me. Sanders writes that 10 months ago, when his campaign started, he was “all but unknown” in South Carolina, and the “grassroots political revolution” is still growing. “We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire,” he writes. “She won a decisive victory in South Carolina.” Now it’s onto Super Tuesday, where “Democrats in 11 states will pick 10 times more pledged delegates on one day than were selected in the four early states so far in this campaign.”
There has been a lot of goalpost-moving by the Sanders campaign with regard to South Carolina. They initially thought momentum from New Hampshire might power them to a win here; when that began to look impossible, they talked about “closing the gap.” Based on these preliminary results, it appears he did neither.
Sanders’s campaign has already begun to talk in recent days about having scored a moral victory in this campaign by showing that his agenda had popular appeal and that he was not a “fringe candidate.”
If today’s result prefigures a big Clinton victory on Super Tuesday, Sanders will struggle to prove he’s really still in this to win, not merely to make a point.
Clinton's first reaction, posted exactly two minutes after the polls closed and the networks called South Carolina:
To South Carolina, to the volunteers at the heart of our campaign, to the supporters who power it: thank you. -H pic.twitter.com/JFTUZ2yBxf— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 28, 2016
Greetings from Columbia, South Carolina, where Hillary Clinton's supporters have gathered to celebrate her victory in tonight's primary. When the race was called for her as soon as the polls closed at 7 p.m., shouts of “Hill-a-ry!” went up, gradually turning into “I’m with her! I’m with her!”
Right as the polls closed at 7pm, the networks called the race for Clinton. It is, as my colleague Molly Ball reported, a stunning reversal. Eight years ago, black voters in South Carolina embraced the candidacy of a first-term senator who promised change, rejecting Hillary Clinton’s case for experience and an established track-record. This year, many of those same black voters have rejected Bernie Sanders’s promises of radical change, embracing Clinton and the same message that failed to catch on last time around.
The Sanders campaign knew it was fighting an uphill battle in the state—but is surely disappointed by this result. Sanders invested time, money, and resources in the state. He came in having done better than initially expected in Iowa and Nevada, and with a crushing victory in New Hampshire. But none of that seemed to make a difference in South Carolina, where the polls hardly moved—and where exit polls suggest an enormous Clinton margin.
If Sanders couldn’t break through in South Carolina, despite all he did, what chance does he have in the other states where black voters comprise substantial proportions of the electorate? And if he can’t catch on there, is this the end of his bid for the nomination?
Sanders is hitting two Super Tuesday states today: He was in Texas earlier and now he's headed to Minnesota. As a Politico reporter has pointed out, he might miss the networks calling South Carolina. And if Sanders loses the state, Clinton could have to wait for a congratulatory call.
MSNBC is reporting that Clinton’s camp wants to win South Carolina by the same measure as Sanders when he won New Hampshire—22 points. Because it’s never, ever enough to just plain win. This is the new standard by which we will judge Clinton’s impending win.
The numbers that Priscilla just noted for black voters are pretty interesting. In 2008, 55 percent of the South Carolina Democratic electorate was black, so if this result is right, it would be pretty surprising—an increase by 6 percentage points over eight years ago. Obviously, there’s a key difference between this race and that one: Barack Obama was on the ballot, bidding to become the first African American nominee for a major party. Black voters went 78 percent for him in that race, swamping Clinton. As Molly Ball and I have both reported, the Clinton campaign has been working hard to win over African Americans and generally seems to be doing well. Perhaps the increase here is a sign that white voters simply aren’t coming out as much, which would be particularly bad news for Sanders. Or perhaps the early exits are a little off.
Preliminary exit polls are out and they serve as a strong indicator of a possible Hillary Clinton win. As was expected, blacks account for the large majority of the vote, coming in at 61 percent, according to the polls; 70 percent of voters also appear to want the next president to “generally continue Obama’s policies.” It’s a good sign for Clinton who has been vying to be the successor in the state. Also playing to Clinton’s strength is the number of voters that want the next president to be experienced, 82 percent to 13 percent. The polls overall paint a different picture from past contests like New Hampshire where Sanders secured votes from first-time primary goers.
To Nora’s point, Bernie Sanders’s showing in the state rides on voter turnout. Hillary Clinton has a lead among African Americans and she has done well with voters over 45. Even if Sanders is lagging in the minority vote, he has made up for it in the Millennial vote. In the Nevada, but Sanders had a commanding lead among Latinos under the age of 45. That might be the case in South Carolina among younger voters, but the question is how much of a difference can it make when that bloc of voters is also less likely to show up to the polls.
South Carolina didn’t take Martin O’Malley off the ballot. Luckily, they did include Willie Wilson, a self-funded outsider candidate, who The Guardian says has a “Donald Trump-meets-evangelical-meets-Bernie Sanders vibe.” At least, unlike O’Malley, Wilson is still in the race.
We’re just about two hours away from the polls closing in South Carolina. (Political journalists the country over are grateful this primary is on East Coast time.) According to reports from the ground, turnout has been fairly low, but a county board of elections official told The Post and Courier that “[w]hat we normally do see is something closer to the end of the day when people start realizing they don’t have much time left to vote.” And voters who make it into line by 7 p.m.—when the polls close—won’t be kicked out of their polling locations and will still see their votes counted. So there’s hope yet for a Saturday-night surge.
In Alabama today, Hillary Clinton gave an expansive speech at Miles College in front of a largely African American audience. There, she talked about college debt, her work in the trenches at the Children’s Defense Fund, her role in advising President Obama during the operation to hunt down Osama bin Laden, and the weight of the presidency itself. On that last point, Clinton seemed eager to remind listeners of the gravity of the office, of the harrowing decisions presidents make, and of the importance of a president’s words; after all, we are living in a world where the market can rise or fall based on the way the president of the United States speaks or comports himself—a clear dig at Donald Trump that the audience relished. It’s the kind of talk that indicates Clinton may be starting to pivot from candidate to nominee.
Similarly, Marco Rubio’s new posture of attacking Trump makes it clear that his campaign wants to recast the current narrative from a three-man race (with Trump and Ted Cruz) to a two-man race (just against Trump). Still, Ted Cruz at least has one win against Trump and is leading Trump in his home state of Texas; Rubio, on the other hand, has no wins and is facing an uphill battle in his home state of Florida. Nevertheless the boyish senator is as close as the establishment may come to defeating either the far-right-fringe candidate or the uncouth front-runner, and Rubio is finally shedding the fear of being in Trump’s crosshairs (to be fair, it’s a singularly dangerous place to be—just ask Jeb Bush) to go after Trump where he lives: business deals, hiring practices, tax returns. “Friends don't let friends vote for con artists,” he crowed today in Georgia. “Don’t give the nuclear codes to a con artist!”
Hello, South Carolina! After a, shall we say, bracing week of Republican coverage, it’s time for the Democrats to wrest back some small measure of America’s attention. The polls are open in the Palmetto State, where issues of race are front and center. African American communities in this state have just emerged from a blistering year. In April 2015, a video of a police officer shooting and killing Walter Scott, an unarmed man, put yet another spotlight on police brutality in African American enclaves. And then, in June, South Carolinians were shaken to the core with the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which saw nine dead, left a community bereft, inspired a president to song, and downed a flag. And now, the presidential primaries are in town—and at time when a large swath of the country seems mesmerized by Donald Trump’s xenophobic vision for America.
The African American voters in South Carolina, who were so critical to Barack Obama’s election, are up for grabs. And Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have bent over backwards to bolster their civil-rights street cred. Sanders was a movement leader in the 1960s but has made some recent missteps in an attempt to connect with black voters. Clinton has long been a loyal ally, but her husband’s record on prison and welfare reform haunt her. Their campaigns have both even turned to pop culture for help getting out their good-on-race bona fides: Where Sanders has Danny Glover and Killer Mike in his corner, Clinton has Morgan Freeman and, well, Bubba. For more on the Democrats, check out Molly Ball’s excellent article “Barack Obama’s Heir.”
Today, we’ll be following all the polls and results with smart analysis and updates as they come in. Stay tuned to this space. Will Sanders surprise everyone with a better-than-expected showing in South Carolina, or is this at last the beginning of Clinton’s supposed firewall? The Atlantic’s 2016 Distilled will feature all the best and most original reporting on the presidential election. And don’t forget to check out our Media Mentions Tracker, Candidate Cheat Sheet, and Gaffe Track.
— Sacha Zimmerman