COLUMBIA, S.C. — Hillary Clinton is looking to Saturday’s South Carolina primary as a chance to prove the strength of her diverse southern firewall and to restore her position as the undisputed front-runner in the Democratic White House race.
The latest polling shows Clinton with a lead of 25 points or more in the Palmetto State, where polls are open until 7 p.m EST, and where she is capitalizing on her family’s long ties with African-American voters.
In the run-up to the primary, she has stressed a reworked campaign theme that links her appeal to African-American voters with people of all races who face economic and other barriers to getting ahead. It’s a message that has been adjusted and become more populist partly owing to the unexpected strength of her opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in early voting states.
“I want to break every barrier that stands in the way of any American from getting ahead and staying ahead,” Clinton said in Orangeburg, S.C., on Friday. “I know that America can’t live up to its potential unless every person in our country has a chance to live up to his or hers.”
Clinton’s expected win on Saturday would further stabilize her campaign after her crucial victory over Sanders in Nevada last week. That win calmed fears about her campaign after Sanders trounced Clinton in the New Hampshire primary and only narrowly lost to her in the Iowa caucuses.
A wide margin would also validate Clinton’s claims that her Democratic Party power base of minority voters will, in the end, beat Sanders’ more homogeneous support. It would also augur well for Clinton as she seeks to sweep Southern contests on Super Tuesday in states like Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Virginia and Tennessee.
A Clinton win on Saturday would also represent a moment of personal redemption for the candidate and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, after her defeat in South Carolina to Barack Obama in a tough battle from which her campaign never recovered.
Both Clintons spent many of the days running up to the primary crisscrossing the state, and the former secretary of state picked up key endorsements, including that of South Carolina Rep James Clyburn.
Sanders spent less time in the state than Clinton, but made a late run south on Friday, taking aim at her positions on trade and relationship with Wall Street. He also highlighted his opposition to the death penalty, saying its use had been responsible for the taking of innocent lives, including those of people of color.
“We have so much ugliness and so much violence that I don’t think the government should be involved in that violence and killing people,” Sanders said.
While he never expected to win South Carolina, Sanders has been able to use the state to test his message towards African-American voters especially that could help him in later states.
But the Sanders camp is already discounting the result on Saturday, pointing out that Sanders was little known in South Carolina before the primary and had already cut into Clinton’s wide polling leads. Sanders will not hold a watch party in the state on Saturday, instead planning to hold events in Texas and Minnesota, which vote on Super Tuesday.
“There is only one candidate that has to win South Carolina and it is not Bernie Sanders,” Justin Bamberg, a South Carolina state representative who supports the Vermont senator said Saturday. “He just has to show that he can perform fairly well and that he is a competitive candidate.”