South Carolina Democratic Primary Preview

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South Carolina represents the fourth Presidential test and the final primary before the flurry of contests on Super Tuesday. On Saturday, voters in the Palmetto state will shape the framing of the rest of the campaign season. Here are four key factors that will determine the results for each campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Bernie fails to make inroads with the African American community

This Saturday in South Carolina, political surprises will be few and far between. Barring a massive catastrophe in the Clinton camp the likes of which have not been seen in Democratic presidential politics since Howard Dean’s primal shout after the 2004 Iowa caucuses, the primary will be called for Hillary Clinton the moment the polls close. African-American voters—who overwhelmingly support Clinton—comprise 56 percent of Democratic primary voters in this Southern state. In polls leading up to the primary, the former Secretary of State holds a dominant 25-point lead over her socialist counterpart. FiveThirtyEight, a media organization that focuses on statistical analysis, gives Clinton a greater than 99 percent chance of winning on Saturday.  

Senator Sanders performed well in Iowa and New Hampshire—states that are 92 and 94 percent white, respectively. His worst performance thus far came in Nevada, a state in which 28 percent of the electorate is Hispanic. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama rode the support of 78 percent of Black primary voters to a 28-point victory over chief rival Hillary Clinton.

This illustrates a larger problem obstructing Bernie’s path to the nomination—his campaign simply does not appeal to Black voters. Although some polling showed him winning the battle for Latino voters in Nevada, the campaign has not had the same impact on the black community. This image has not been helped by congressman John Lewis—the former leader of the SNCC who was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s—who has actively campaigned for Hillary and called Bernie’s civil rights record into question. In South Carolina, Jim Clyburn, the highest ranking member of the Congressional Black Caucus, also endorsed Hillary Clinton, leaving Sanders with only rapper Killer Mike and Ohio state representative Nina Turner as prominent African-American surrogates.

Can Democrats make electoral gains in the red-heavy South?

After signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lyndon Baines Johnson uttered the famous words that the legislation would make the Democrats “lose the South for a generation.” With shifting demographics in this predominantly conservative region, however, Democrats are once again eyeing victories in the once-unwinnable South. Through the past decade, these shifts have tilted Florida slightly Democratic and rendered North Carolina and Virginia full-fledged swing states, with Georgia not far behind.

Most African-Americans live in the Southeast. In Georgia, the rapid increase in the Hispanic community has moved the traditionally conservative state that brought us Jimmy Carter just forty years ago back to the political center. These are demographics that Clinton dominates in much the same way that Obama dominated in 2008 and 2012. If Clinton is the eventual nominee, the issue in November will be turnout of minority communities. Will Black voters turn out in the same numbers for Clinton as they did for the revolutionary message of hope and to elect the first African-American president in 2008? More than 400,000 South Carolinians took part in the 2008 primary. If Hillary and Bernie can garner a similar turnout, Democrats may stand a chance in several states across the South come November.

Is Hillary Clinton still inevitable?

Betting markets took a step back from Hillary Clinton’s inevitability after her middling performance in Iowa and outright defeat in New Hampshire. However, after successfully pushing back a late Sanders rally in Nevada to win by more than five points, she has recovered much of her lost ground. Today, BetFair gives her an 87.7 percent chance of winning the nomination. Although this is no shoe-in, it is deeply differentiated from the muddled Republican field, where frontrunner Donald Trump has to grapple with the massive establishment support behind Senator Marco Rubio. Clinton should ride a large win in South Carolina into Super Tuesday to find even more success in favorable primaries and build on her substantial delegate lead.

Hillary has amassed the greatest number of endorsements from within her own party faster than any candidate in the modern era. Since before even her official announcement of her candidacy, she has been the consensus pick for the establishment. Bernie, on the other hand, has been forced to run as an outsider, with just two endorsements from Congress. Under the nomination process outlined in the influential book about primary politics, The Party Decides, Clinton would walk to the nomination. It is only in this rare and establishment-averse electorate that the Sanders brand of abrasiveness and ultra-liberalism has been able to catch fire.

Sanders has largely already surrendered the state

In his Nevada concession speech, accepting his first true loss of the election season, Bernie skipped over South Carolina’s primary entirely, instead focusing on those states voting March 1. This week, he has had events in Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Virginia, while he has attended just one event in South Carolina. Desperate to avoid the storyline that he is giving up on the state, Sanders and his surrogates discuss his impressive increase in polls in the state.

We were at 7, 8, 9 percent in the polls. We were 50, 60, 70 points behind,” Sanders told the media gathered in South Carolina Wednesday morning. “We have waged a very vigorous campaign. We have closed the gap very significantly.”

Despite this closing of the gap, expect Clinton to run away with the first signature win of her 2016 presidential campaign on Saturday.




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  1. Cameron Stephens

    Hillary will defeat Sanders… Much more money and stable support. The Bern is losing momentum going into South Carolina and will sputter. Great Article Steve!


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