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Clinton, Sanders invest big in South Carolina primary

Bill Allison
Bloomberg News

Washington — Bernie Sanders has built a bigger operation in South Carolina than he has had in any other state thus far in the Democratic presidential primary as he tries to close in on front-runner Hillary Clinton in the last contest ahead of Super Tuesday.

“Our support has grown (in S.C.) and it has grown in the African-American community, ” said candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has about 200 paid staffers working in South Carolina, the campaign said, and has spent about $1 million on ads there in the past 30 days, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks political ad spending.

He’s making progress. Sanders trailed Clinton by nearly 50 percentage points in December, according to a RealClear Politics polling average. He’s slashed the gap in half, but still trails by a yawning 24 percentage points as of last week.

Meanwhile, Clinton doesn’t just want to beat Sanders in South Carolina. She wants to beat expectations.

She’s running more than 20 points ahead of Sanders in most polls heading into Saturday’s Democratic presidential primary, buoyed by overwhelming support from the state’s black voters. Now she’s looking to the state to re-establish an air of inevitability around her campaign — and deliver such an embarrassing defeat to Sanders that it’s hard for him ever to recover.

She might have been able to ease up a little after getting actor Morgan Freeman to narrate campaign ads airing in the Palmetto State and winning the endorsement of Rep. James Clyburn, one of the most influential black Democrats in the state.

“Look, I believe every election or caucus has to be taken seriously,” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said.

Sanders has gained momentum and raised millions of dollars in small contributions after the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina, where Clinton enjoys deeper roots and a slew of endorsements, is a test for Sanders’ ability to appeal to African American voters ahead of the seven southern nominating contests on March 1.

“If he’s going to appeal to the broader Democratic Party, he has to make inroads with African-American voters,” said J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College.

“He needed to make a serious investment in South Carolina simply because Iowa and New Hampshire are outliers to the Democratic coalition,” he said, referring to the largely white demographics in the first two voting contests.

In South Carolina, Clinton enjoys a three-to-one advantage among African-American voters, who are expected to make up half of the turnout, according to a poll by Bloomberg News.

Greg Cranford, a retired teacher who lives in Orangeburg, home to South Carolina State University, said volunteers in the predominantly African-American community started signing up with Sanders as early as last July. Cranford, who canvasses door-to-door for Sanders, said there were few supporters then but the numbers has grown.

“I don’t know if he can beat Hillary, but he’s made some inroads here. Some of the students at SCSU are excited,” Cranford said, adding that Cornell West, a prominent African-American intellectual at Princeton University, endorsed the candidate and appeared on his behalf.

Clinton has rolled out dozens of endorsements and appearances from black political, cultural and civil rights leaders. Clinton will campaign in South Carolina every day through the primary, rather than focus on the Super Tuesday states that vote three days later. She announced on Tuesday that she’s bringing in former President Bill Clinton for “get out of the vote” rallies through primary day Saturday.

South Carolina Democrats’ rejection of Clinton in favor of Barack Obama in 2008 was a hard lesson for the Clintons about taking nothing for granted. But her efforts here seem more than that, an attempt to run up the score on Sanders, whose campaign momentum already was slowed significantly by Clinton’s 5-point win in Nevada.

“Look, I believe every election or caucus has to be taken seriously,” Clinton said in a televised town hall meeting Tuesday hosted by CNN. “I’m taking no vote, no place for granted.”