Hillary Clinton’s Wednesday visit to South Carolina will end a long absence after her bruising presidential primary loss in 2008 to then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
Clinton will be back in South Carolina, giving the keynote speech at the 2015 Day in Blue, an annual Columbia gathering of the S.C. Democratic Women’s Council and the S.C. House Democratic Women’s Caucus. She also will meet privately with minority business leaders and the S.C. House and Senate Democratic caucuses.
The visit is a chance for the former first lady, former U.S. senator from New York and former secretary of state to reconnect with S.C. Democrats after the brutal 2008 primary.
In that contest, Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, criticized Obama in ways that some critics said were racially charged, leading to a bitter falling-out between the Clintons and some of the state’s top Democrats.
Those moments, combined with Obama’s early-state win in Iowa, helped move Democratic voters away from Clinton and into Obama’s camp, helping propel him to a two-term presidency, political scientists say.
The 2016 primary is shaping up more favorably for Clinton, who will not face opponents – actual or wanna-be – with the same political potency of the history-making Obama. This time, the chance to make history in the Democratic Party lies with Clinton, who could become the first woman to win the White House.
Clinton’s challenge in the South, said Furman political scientist Teresa Cosby, will to build excitement for her party, secure the women’s vote and take care not to run “a campaign that suppresses her turnout” by turning off African-American voters.
A rough loss
The 2008 Democratic primary was rocky. Obama nearly swept the Palmetto State, taking 44 of 46 counties and winning 55 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 27 percent.
Clinton started out as a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination until Obama won Iowa, signaling to Democratic voters that they, perhaps, could elect a black president.
But Clinton and her husband – the former president, dubbed the “first black president” by African-American author Toni Morrison – also disrupted her path to victory. The couple was accused of injecting race into the contest as they moved to counter Obama’s appeal and highlight his inexperience.
When Bill Clinton referred to parts of Obama’s campaign as a “fairy tale,” the comment “really aggravated the African-American voter,” said Furman’s Cosby. “I don't think (Clinton) meant that the potential for an African-American president was a fairy tale, but the potential of a newcomer like Obama was a fairy tale,” Cosby said.
Clinton's statement “focused a critique on the Clintons that they had never had before” and “swung a number of Clinton voters, on the fence, toward Obama,” she said.
In South Carolina, Bill Clinton also reminded reporters that Jesse Jackson had won Democratic presidential contests in the state twice in the 1980s – a comment some Democrats saw as an attempt to highlight Obama’s race and lessen his appeal to white Southerners.
Clinton supporter Sally Howard — former chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Horry County, the only county Clinton carried in 2008 — remembered that moment the most from the campaign.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., opens his 2014 memoir “Blessed Experiences” by recalling how the Clinton rout led to hard feelings. Bill Clinton called Clyburn at 2:15 a.m. the morning after the Democratic primary, wanting to know why the former first lady lost and accusing Clyburn of making the campaign about race. “If you bastards want a fight, you damn well will get one,” the former president said, Clyburn wrote in his memoir.
‘Out there at the Waffle House’
So far in the 2016 race, Clinton is light-years ahead of any Democratic challengers in the polls.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent and self-styled socialist from Vermont, is running.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to announce he is running May 30 in Baltimore. Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia also may enter the race.
In controlled meetings like the ones she is having in South Carolina, Clinton can hone a message “that doesn't sound stridently left-wing,” said Mark Tompkins, a University of South Carolina political scientist.
Clinton’s appearance in South Carolina and other Southern states will be in an effort to redefine herself as someone who can connect with women, immigrants and regular Americans, he said. “She's going to campaign as someone who knows what's going on,” Tompkins said. “But, in the meantime, she's got to soften these edges (and be) seen to be out there at Waffle House.
“You can imagine where she'll go, and it's probably not Barnes and Noble.”
What: The Democratic presidential hopeful is the keynote speaker at the S.C. Democratic Women’s Council and the S.C. House Democratic Women’s Caucus 2015 Day in Blue
Where: Columbia Marriott, Main and Hampton streets
When: 1:45 p.m. Wednesday
Private meetings: Clinton also will meet privately with minority business owners and the S.C. House and Senate Democratic caucuses
How Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have fared at the polls in S.C.
44 percent: Former President Clinton’s showing at S.C. polls in November 1996, losing the state by 6 percentage points. That was better than 1992, when Clinton lost the state by 8 percentage points. It also was better than 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012, when the Democratic nominee lost the state by 16 percentage points, 17 percentage points, 9 percentage points and 11 percentage points.
27 percent: Hillary Clinton’s showing in the state’s 2008 Democratic primary, finishing a distant second to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who won 55 percent. Obama won every county in the state except for Horry, which Clinton won, and Oconee, which native son John Edwards won.