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Clinton wins SC landslide

VIDEO: Hillary Clinton Proves Herself to South Carolina

Drawing overwhelming support from African-American voters, Hillary Clinton won South Carolina's Primary in a rout over Bernie Sanders. Voters discussed her appeal as she delivered her speech at her Primary Night Event inside the USC Volleyball Center on Saturday, February 27, 2016, in Columbia, South Carolina.
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Drawing overwhelming support from African-American voters, Hillary Clinton won South Carolina's Primary in a rout over Bernie Sanders. Voters discussed her appeal as she delivered her speech at her Primary Night Event inside the USC Volleyball Center on Saturday, February 27, 2016, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Hillary Clinton won a decisive victory Saturday in the S.C. Democratic primary — a win that should propel her on the path to the presidential nomination that eluded her in 2008.

Polls and delegate math are working in the former secretary of state’s favor.

Clinton leads U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent seeking the Democratic nomination, in all but two of 20 state primaries and caucuses that will be held through March 15, when half of all Democratic delegates will be awarded.

"South Carolina is the turning point," University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said.

News organizations declared Clinton the winner of the South’s first primary immediately after polls closed at 7 p.m. Clinton beat Sanders by about 50 percentage points, a margin twice as large as predicted by pre-primary polls.

The landslide victory allowed Clinton to train attention on her possible rival in the general election, GOP front-runner Donald Trump, during her victory speech.

"We don't need to make America great again. America has never stopped being great,” Clinton said, referring to the New York billionaire’s campaign slogan. “But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers. We need to show by everything we do that we really are in this together."

Beginning of the end for Sanders?

Saturday’s win was Clinton’s third in the first four primary contests. Her only loss came in New Hampshire, which borders Sanders’ home state of Vermont.

Clinton, the first woman to win a presidential primary in South Carolina, dominated the state, helped by her massive support among African-American voters, who accounted for almost two-thirds of voters.

Clinton won black voters by a margin of 84-16, according to network exit polls.

African-American voters made up 62 percent of primary voters, up from 55 percent in 2008, according to exit polls. South Carolina was the first state of the 2016 primary season with a significant African-American population.

“She has been around quite a while fighting for blacks, trying to get better jobs, better education,” said David Webb, a 64-year-old African-American retiree from Columbia who voted for Clinton.

Clinton’s strength among black S.C. voters could translate into other early March primaries in states with large blocs of African-American voters. Sanders is polling ahead of Clinton only in Vermont, his home state, and Massachusetts, which borders Vermont.

Sanders needs to show he can win states with greater diversity than New Hampshire and Iowa, where he ran a close second to Clinton, said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, an Orangeburg Democrat who is an undecided super-delegate to the party’s convention, which will nominate a candidate for president.

If Sanders does not show progress against Clinton after the March 15 primaries, he might want to rethink staying in the race, said Cobb-Hunter, who chairs the Democratic National Committee's Southern Regional Caucus.

"Just because he's got money doesn't mean he has to stay in it," Cobb-Hunter said.

‘On her way to the White House’

Clinton is expected to win the bulk of the 59 delegates from South Carolina. Most of the delegates are split between candidates based on results in South Carolina’s seven congressional districts.

“We tonight have started Hillary Clinton on her way to the White House,” U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the state’s most influential Democratic politician, told the crowd at Clinton’s victory rally.

Clinton and her team built on relationships in South Carolina built during her 2008 presidential campaign, which she lost to then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Clinton gathered support from more than 30 S.C. lawmakers, led by Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House.

"South Carolina matters because it best represents the Democratic coalition of all the early primaries," said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in North Carolina. "And if you can't do well in that state, no matter the fervor you have, how can you claim the Democratic nomination without the Democratic coalition?"

Sanders was outmatched in South Carolina, where being a self-proclaimed democratic socialist failed to win over centrist voters. His pledge to fix a rigged economic system and to provide free college were met more with skepticism than enthusiasm.

“I was a Bernie (supporter) all the way up to about a week ago and ended up going with Hillary just for her understanding of policy, her foreign policy stance, her experience in government and just the possibility she could actually be able to get her agenda through,” said Kimberly Branham, a 52-year-old administrative assistant from Columbia.

‘Campaign is just beginning’

Despite efforts to woo African-American pastors, college students and lawmakers, the Sanders camp knew it was going to lose South Carolina.

“I wouldn't focus on the margin,” a Sanders campaign pollster said last week, “because it's not going to be that close.”

With an insurmountable deficit, Sanders spent much less time than Clinton in South Carolina last week. He campaigned Wednesday, Thursday and part of Friday in Midwestern states that hold primaries next month, including some that cast votes on Tuesday.

Sanders came back to the Palmetto State late Friday, but he flew out again Saturday to campaign in Texas and Minnesota.

"Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just beginning,” Sanders said in a statement Saturday, released by the campaign. “We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire. She won a decisive victory in South Carolina. Now, it’s on to Super Tuesday.

“Our grassroots political revolution is growing state by state, and we won't stop now.”

Sanders failed to carry over momentum from his 22-percentage-point Feb. 9 win in New Hampshire. In the two races since, he lost the Nevada caucus a week ago and now the S.C. primary.

Winning white and younger voters — the main groups that Sanders won in South Carolina, according to exit polls — is not enough to beat Clinton, Catawba’s Bitzer said. "It's a not a winning strategy."

Clinton, on the other hand, made more than 10 public stops across the state during the last week.

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, also campaigned last week in South Carolina — a sign the campaign was not resting on its large lead.

‘I want to see a woman’

Clinton struck a populist tone in her victory speech, espousing equal pay for women, working to alleviate heavy student debt, striving to end systemic racism, and pledging to revamp the nation’s criminal justice and immigration systems.

“Tomorrow, this campaign goes national,” Clinton said from the University of South Carolina’s volleyball center. “We are going to compete for every vote in every state, we are not taking anything, and we are not taking anyone, for granted.”

Clinton also took a veiled jab at Sanders, who she’s accused of being a one-note candidate.

“It’s important that Wall Street must never threaten Main Street again,” she said, “But America isn’t a single-issue country. We need more than a plan for the biggest banks. The middle class needs a raise, and we need more good jobs, jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.”

Clinton supporters gathered at USC said they were ready to witness history.

“I was fortunate enough to see an African-American president,” said Lillie Parks, 72, of Lake City.“Now, I want to see a woman.”

‘Unifying the two camps’

Even if Clinton nabs a majority of delegates next month, as polling suggests, Sabato said he expects Sanders to continue his campaign, fueled by small-dollar donations. Sanders will continue to gather delegates to have more of a voice in the party, including some influence on the Democratic convention platform in Philadelphia.

"And he'll become a permanent fixture on the Sunday talk shows," Sabato said.

But some Democratic leaders think a prolonged primary will not help the party keep the White House.

"I look at what's going on on Facebook, and I'm concerned about unifying the two camps after the primaries are over," Cobb-Hunter said. "Let's stay focused on November because we won't win if we're busy killing each other in the primaries."

Staff writers Glen Flanagan and Jamie Self and McClatchy DC Bureau writer William Douglas contributed. Andrew Shain: 803-771-8619, @AndyShain

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