Hillary Clinton doesn’t just want to beat Bernie Sanders in South Carolina. She wants to beat expectations.
She’s running more than 20 points ahead of Sanders in most polls heading into Saturday’s Democratic presidential primary, buoyed by overwhelming support from the state’s black voters. Now she’s looking to the state to re-establish an air of inevitability around her campaign -- and deliver such an embarrassing defeat to Sanders that it’s hard for him ever to recover.
She might have been able to ease up a little after getting actor Morgan Freeman to narrate campaign ads airing in the Palmetto State and winning the endorsement of Representative James Clyburn, one of the most influential black Democrats in the state.
Instead, she rolled out dozens of endorsements and appearances from black political, cultural and civil rights leaders. Clinton will campaign in South Carolina every day through the primary, rather than focus on the Super Tuesday states that vote three days later. She announced on Tuesday that she’s bringing in former President Bill Clinton for “get out of the vote” rallies through primary day Saturday.
South Carolina Democrats’ rejection of Clinton in favor of Barack Obama in 2008 was a hard lesson for the Clintons about taking nothing for granted. But her efforts here seem more than that, an attempt to run up the score on Sanders whose campaign momentum already was slowed significantly by Clinton’s 5-point win in Nevada.
"Look, I believe every election or caucus has to be taken seriously," Clinton said in a televised town hall meeting Tuesday hosted by CNN. "I'm taking no vote, no place for granted."
Sanders is playing his own expectations game.
"When we started in South Carolina, my message wasn't resonating with anybody," he said in the CNN town hall, answering a question about why his message isn't connecting as well with blacks in the state.
"I'm running against a candidate who is one of the best known people in the world, a candidate who ran here a very strong campaign in 2008, who knows a whole lot of people," Sanders continued. "So we started with no support. Our support has grown and it has grown in the African-American community."
Sanders is assuring supporters he hasn’t written off South Carolina, and he held two events Sunday and one Monday morning in the state.
The Sanders campaign says it has 200 paid staffers working in the South Carolina, making it his biggest state operation so far. He's also spent about $1 million on ads there in the past 30 days, according to Kantar Media's CMAG, which tracks political ad spending.
Sanders has his share of bold-faced names in the African-American community backing him too, including actor Danny Glover, singer Harry Belafonte, and Ben Jealous, a former president of the NAACP. Director Spike Lee endorsed Sanders this week, too, saying, "Enough talk. Time for action."
But Sanders also flew to Massachusetts for a news conference and a rally on Monday, and to Virginia, where he held a rally on Tuesday before returning to South Carolina for the CNN town hall.
Sanders added a news conference on poverty with two African-American state lawmakers in Columbia, South Carolina, on Wednesday morning, but then is scheduled to campaign later in the day in Missouri and Oklahoma. On Thursday, he is scheduled to travel to four other states with March primaries or caucuses. He isn’t expected back in South Carolina until Friday.
Clinton is running 24.1 percentage points ahead of Sanders, according to the average of eight polls conducted over the past two weeks and tracked by Real Clear Politics. Her lead in those surveys ranged between 18 points and 28 points. A Bloomberg Politics poll found she had a 22-point advantage.
Clinton’s campaign enlisted five women whose children died in high-profile cases of gun violence or police abuse, and prominent civil-rights lawyers, for a 10-city “Breaking Down Barriers” tour of South Carolina this week.
She’s looking to tie Sanders’ past resistance to some gun control measures to gun violence that has disproportionately affected the black community, including the mass shooting last year by a white man at a black church in Charleston that killed nine people. She scheduled a stop with the five mothers at a Tuesday night church gathering in Columbia before the town hall.
Clinton also sent surrogates to black churches around the state on Sunday. Gospel singer Dottie Peoples told parishioners they’d elected the first black president and now it was time for a woman, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who said Sanders is “a nice guy” but that Clinton is better poised to defeat Republican Donald Trump if he’s the nominee. Landrieu also said Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan is a “dog whistle” for whites who want to return to the Old South.
She tapped Grammy-nominated R&B singer Charlie Wilson to headline a rally in Charleston on Thursday. The campaign put Clyburn on the phone with reporters to answer questions about how Clinton is doing in the state. Bill Clinton is traveling to five South Carolina cities on Thursday and Friday to rally voters.
Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian, an avowed Clinton opponent who endorsed Sanders, made an assertion Monday that no poll has supported: that Sanders would surprise everyone and come within single digits in the primary. On Tuesday, Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon on Tuesday seized on that prediction, writing in a posting on Twitter: “The man knows his state.”
At CNN's South Carolina town hall, both Clinton and Sanders made appeals directly to African-American voters who polls show will make up about 50 percent of the voters in the state's primary.
Clinton thanked a young black woman "for being so candid and brave to stand up and say this about yourself," after the woman prefaced a question about how Clinton would fix race relations by saying people started treating her differently after she started wearing her hair "natural."
"I think it really helps to shine a spotlight on what are one of the many barriers that still stand in the way of people feeling like they can pursue their own dreams, they can be who they are, they can have the future that they want in our country," Clinton said. She also told the woman that "you have a right to wear your hair anyway you want to."
Asked during the forum to identify a past Supreme Court Justice he admired, Sanders chose the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice on the high court, calling him a “damn good” justice.
The Vermont senator also said that the movement that questioned Obama’s country of birth because his father was from Kenya was “a racist effort to try to delegitimize the president of the United States.” Sanders said while his own father also was an immigrant, “Nobody has asked for my birth certificate. Maybe it’s the color of my skin, I don’t know.”
-- With assistance from Mark Niquette.