Clinton to confront racial disparities in S.C.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (left) and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, pose for a photo before debating at the University of New Hampshire on Feb. 4 in Durham, N.H.

The Democratic feud in South Carolina resumes Friday when Hillary Clinton returns to highlight the nation’s racial inadequacies as part of a visit to one of the state’s poorest areas.

Rival Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has yet to announce any appearances in the Palmetto State following his commanding win in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.

Sanders’ no-show may not be as alarming as it sounds. The Democratic contenders first have to get through the Nevada caucuses next week. His staff said they are still arranging his schedule.

With the stakes running high to attract minorities in the nation’s first Democratic contest in the South, Clinton will visit Denmark-Olar Elementary School in Bamberg County, in the west-central part of the state, for a town hall.

She’s expected to focus on disparities facing South Carolinians and communities of color. That includes job opportunities, housing and education, her campaign said.

The appearance comes as part of a stepped-up effort from the Clinton campaign in recent days to court black voters, including via television.

For example, in one 30-second TV ad featuring former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, he identifies Clinton as someone who has “fought her whole life for children, to protect civil rights, voting rights.”

A second ad now airing in the state shows Clinton addressing what’s referred to as a “fundamentally broken” criminal justice system, and one where “African-Americans are more likely to be arrested by police and sentenced to longer prison terms for doing the same thing as whites do.”

African-Americans are expected to make up more than 50 percent of the Feb. 27 primary, and Clinton is hoping for a commanding win to regain her status as the front-runner after a 22-point loss in New Hampshire.

The latest polling averages from surveys taken in South Carolina, according to the service FiveThirtyEight, give Clinton a 61 percent to 29 percent lead.

Clinton also has secured the most endorsements from within the Legislature and from several of the state’s top Democratic figures, including former Govs. Dick Riley and Jim Hodges and former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., has not made an endorsement but conceded this week he is being pressured by friends and family to go Clinton’s way.

Former state lawmaker Bakari Sellers, who previously represented the Denmark area in the Legislature, said Clinton’s visit is a reflection of her commitment to improving education across the country.

“She has the momentum, she has the message,” Sellers said. “Bernie has the most work to do. He has to sprint from behind and he’s not even here to do it.”

Clinton’s town hall is being dubbed a “Corridor of Opportunity” meeting on Friday. The name is a play on words from the state’s so-called “Corridor of Shame” label given to the geographic zone along Interstate 95 known for its neglected education system.

The Denmark appearance is in the legislative district of state Rep. Justin Bamberg, who drew national attention two weeks ago when he became the first member of the S.C. General Assembly to shift a White House endorsement away from Clinton to Sanders.

The Clinton campaign said the location is not connected to Bamberg’s change of heart. They pointed to the work Clinton did as a young lawyer in the 1970s in support of Bamberg County juveniles put in adult jails. At the time, she worked for the national Children’s Defense Fund.

Bamberg County also is part of the more than 20-year-old Abbeville lawsuit, which determined South Carolina has neglected to provide a minimally adequate education in eight of the state’s poor, rural school districts.

Bamberg, a first-term Democrat who was traveling with the Sanders campaign Thursday ahead of the debate in Milwaukee, said he fully expected Sanders to announce an aggressive schedule of events in the state. He also didn’t think it was necessarily a coincidence Clinton scheduled Friday’s stop in his backyard.

“I’m happy to have Hillary come to my district, as well as other presidential candidates,” he said, adding “it’s good to see Bamberg County getting some attention.”

Sanders supporters, meanwhile, have planned a march through Charleston on Saturday beginning at noon and going from Burke High School to Marion Square.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551.