COLUMBIA, S.C. — White House hopeful Bernard Sanders delivered his closing argument Friday at his last event here in South Carolina, telling voters that the Democratic “establishment” is hitting the panic button over his rise.
“Now some of you may have heard recently that the establishment is getting a little bit nervous about our campaign and they should get nervous because we are going to win,” the Vermont senator said, sparking applause from the large crowd that turned out to see him at a local park in the capital city.
Mr. Sanders said his critics are trying to sink his bid by peddling the bogus idea that he can’t win.
“Well, I say to those folks take a look at the last 60 national polls that have been done — Bernie beats Trump 56 out of 60 times,” Mr. Sanders said. “Take a look at some of the polls in the battleground states — like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan — Bernie beats Trump.”
The 78-year-old is looking to build on the momentum he is carrying out of the first three nomination contests, including a landslide victory in Nevada last week, and to expand his lead in the chase for the 1,991 delegates needed to become the party’s standard-bearer.
The New York Times reported this week that dozens of superdelegates are open to exploring the possibility of steering the nomination away from Mr. Sanders if given the chance under the rules of the Democratic National Convention.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, meanwhile, has more riding on the race in the primary Saturday in South Carolina, where voters will set the tone for the delegate-rich Super Tuesday contests set to play out two days later in 14 states.
Mr. Biden has led in the polls since he entered the race, but Mr. Sanders has been on the rise, leaving his backers optimistic that a strong showing here could slingshot him into Super Tuesday, when a third of the pledged delegates up for grabs will be on the line.
Mr. Sanders’ success has expanded the target on his back, as his rivals have started taking sharper aim at his far-left vision. They warn that his embrace of Democratic socialism and support for Medicare for All could help Republicans flip control of the House and defend their Senate majority.
Mr. Biden leads Mr. Sanders by a 34% to 22% margin in South Carolina. Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer is running third at 14%, followed by former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9 % and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 8%.
The final rally here featured performances from Austin, Texas, rappers Blackillac, as well as an appearance from Michael Render, known by his stage name Killer Mike, and actor Danny Glover, who said the Sanders revolution is a “movement to transform America.”
“We’re marching to the White House,” Mr. Glover said. “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder … with Bernie Sanders.”
Mr. Render said it is time for Democrats to walk the walk when it comes to passing “progressive” policies that, among other things, bring an end to police brutality and provides health care to all Americans.
He also not so subtly warned black voters, who comprised 60% of the primary electorate here in 2016, against supporting Mr. Biden or former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“We don’t have time for [expletive],” he said. “Now is the time that we take [expletive] and make fertilizer.”
Mr. Sanders carried the Nevada caucuses by 26 points after winning New Hampshire and finishing a close second in Iowa behind Mr. Buttigieg.
“We are now in the mood for action,” Mr. Sanders said. “That is what we are about. We are not just a campaign, we are a movement.
“Trump wants to divide us up, we are bringing people together,” he said. “You have to stand up and you have to tell the billionaires that they are no longer going to run our country and our government!”