COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Hillary Clinton soundly defeated Sen. Bernard Sanders in this state’s primary Saturday, according to media projections made as soon as the polls closed.
The results put the former secretary of state on a solid footing after a shaky start in the race and give her added momentum heading into the crucial Super Tuesday contests in two days.
With 99 percent of predicts reporting, Mrs. Clinton was beating Mr. Sanders 74 percent to 26 percent.
The victory confirmed Mrs. Clinton’s recovery from an uneven performance in early contests. She barely edged out Mr. Sanders in the leadoff Iowa caucus and suffered an embarrassing blow-out loss in the New Hampshire primary. Her aura of being the party’s inevitable nominee seemed to dissipate.
But by taking South Carolina after a solid win in the Nevada caucuses, Mrs. Clinton now can boast wins in three of the first four contests. And she headed into a series high-stakes March primaries in states where she is well positioned, moving confidently toward the nomination.
“Tomorrow this campaign goes national,” proclaimed Mrs. Clinton in her victory rally at University of South Carolina, sending the crowd into a frenzy of cheers and applause.
“I am so greatly appreciative because today you send a message that today in America we stand together and there is no barrier too big to break,” she said, referencing her campaign theme of “breaking barriers.”
As she reprised her agenda of breaking sown barriers for underprivileged children, women and minorities, she worked in a shot at Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
“We don’t have to make America great again. America never stopped being great,” said Mrs. Clinton. “Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers.”
Within minutes of the race being called, Mr. Sanders issued a statement congratulating Mrs. Clinton and vowing to soldier on against her.
“Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just beginning,” he said. “We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire. She won a decisive victory in South Carolina. Now it’s on to Super Tuesday.”
Overwhelming support from black voters, who exit polls showed were about 60 percent of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, help Mrs. Clinton prevail. It’s a formula she hopes to repeat.
Black voters will be key in other Southern states voting Super Tuesday, including Alabama, Georgia and Virginia.
“She is the best for everyone, not just for the blacks,” said a 30-year-old housekeeper who is black and voted for Mrs. Clinton in a middle-class neighborhood in downtown Columbia.
She also said that she was most familiar with Mrs. Clinton, who has longtime and deep ties to black communities. “I went for someone I know,” said the housekeeper, who declined to give her name.
Mrs. Clinton shored up support of liberal voters by making gun control a mainstay of her agenda, as well as highlighting Mr. Sanders’ mixed record on the issue as a senator from gun-loving Vermont.
Mrs. Clinton hammered home her gun-control message on the stump and in TV ads that blanketed the state. Expect to see more of those in states where Mr. Sanders remains competitive.
“The first issue she won me over on was gun control. Women’s issue would be second,” said Mandy Medlock, 44, who runs a social justice nonprofit and cast her vote for Mrs. Clinton.
Mrs. Medlock, who backed then-Sen. Barack Obama when he beat Mrs. Clinton in the 2008 primary, said the gun issue stopped her from voting for Mr. Sanders this time. “That was the biggest issue in this election,” she said.
Mr. Sanders closed a huge gap in South Carolina in polling leading up to the election, but he rarely got closer than 20 points to catching Mrs. Clinton. By this week, he had all but given up on the state and spent most of his time campaigning in states voting Super Tuesday and later.
Many voters who picked Mrs. Clinton cited the experience of the former first lady, senator and secretary of state.
Experience meant less for younger voters, who often criticized Mrs. Clinton for being a liar or a pandering politician.
“She flip flops. It makes you wonder about what she really believes in,” said Imani Ross-Jackson, 25, an assistant dance teacher who voted for Mr. Sanders. “I don’t think she is a bad person. She just doesn’t seem as genuine or sincere.”
Still, Ms. Ross- Jackson said that she would vote for Mrs. Clinton if she wins the nomination.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders campaign on many of the same issues, including better education opportunity, expanded access to health care, criminal justice reform and cracking down on Wall Street.
But Mrs. Clinton generally offered more measured proposals to achieve the goals than Mr. Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist from Vermont who advocates programs such as Medicare for all and expanded Social Security benefits.
Mrs. Clinton proposed debt-free college, lower student loan rates and free community college tuition, while Mrs. Sanders offered free tuition at all public colleges and universities, proposing to pay for it with new “Robin Hood” taxes on Wall Street transactions.
“I like Bernie. I just think his ideas are way out there,” said Joe Neely, 65, who voted for Mrs. Clinton at an elementary school in a leafy Columbia suburb. “He’s too socialist. It’s great to think you can pay for everybody’s education and get Wall Street to pay for it, but that’s not going to happen.”