- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 28, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sen. Bernard Sanders admitted Sunday he was “decimated” in South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary by Hillary Clinton, but he said he sees glimmers of hope as the campaign approaches Super Tuesday.

He lost Saturday to the former secretary of state by a margin of 74 percent to 26 percent, a drubbing that puts her on solid footing after a shaky start and gives her momentum heading into the crucial 11-state primary contest.

“Tomorrow this campaign goes national,” Mrs. Clinton proclaimed 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.”

She benefited from the lopsided support among black voters, 84 percent of whom backed her over Mr. Sanders, exit polls showed.

Mr. Sanders, however, pointed out that he won the under-30 vote — a trend he expects to continue on Super Tuesday.

“I’m in Minnesota now. We think we’re going to do very well in Minnesota on Super Tuesday,” Mr. Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Colorado, we’re going to do well; Oklahoma, we’re going to do well. I think we’re going to win in Massachusetts. And I believe we’re going to win in Vermont. And we’re going to do better than people think in other states.”

The victory confirmed Mrs. Clinton’s recovery from an uneven performance in early contests. She barely edged out Mr. Sanders in the leadoff Iowa caucuses and suffered an embarrassing blowout 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.

As she reprised her agenda of breaking down barriers for underprivileged children, women and minorities, she worked in a shot at Republican presidential 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 South Carolina 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 Mr. 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.”

Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.

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