ORANGEBURG — Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ last day of campaigning included stops at neighboring colleges just a stone’s throw apart as they made their final pitches to attract young black voters.
Sanders was at Claflin University while Clinton was at nearby South Carolina State University. The afternoon rallies almost overlapped as the 2016 presidential campaign headed for a close in the Palmetto State.
The final appeal to college students Friday indicates where each hoped their closing statements would make a deep final impression. The Democratic electorate polls are open statewide from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
Sanders and Clinton are not the only candidates who are listed on the ballot. The third hopeful is millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Chicago in 2015. He has been running a mostly below-the-radar campaign in the state and gaining little traction.
There were signals Friday that Sanders already is conceding the state to Clinton after failing to make much headway in the polls. Sanders is scheduled to be in Texas and Minnesota on Saturday for rallies in both places.
Clinton, meanwhile, will be in Columbia on Saturday night, at the University of South Carolina Volleyball Center on Blossom Street for her end-of-campaign rally that begins at 7 p.m.
Clinton’s appearance saw about 300 people, mostly students, fill Dukes Gymnasium. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., introduced Clinton to the crowd at his alma mater.
“I don’t believe that it can be contested successfully when I say no one in history has offered for the presidency as this lady has,” he said, explaining why he chose to endorse Clinton last week. “From day one, my heart was with Hillary Clinton.”
Clinton spoke of expanding educational opportunities for all.
“I don’t think it should matter where you live in South Carolina, you are entitled to a first-class education,” she said. “And it’s important we have more early childhood education. We are going to make college affordable. We are going to lower the costs. And we are going to make it possible to go to college debt-free when it comes to your tuition.”
She also moved to connect closely with President Barack Obama.
“I don’t think President Obama gets the credit he deserves digging us out of the debt (Republicans) left us in,” Clinton said. “So I am a proud defender of President Obama. I was honored to serve as his secretary of state. We became not just partners but friends. And I am not going to let Republicans rip away the progress we made.”
Clinton’s comments may have been cut short by two separate protesters who spoke up about 10 minutes into her stump speech and drew the attention of much of the crowd before she stepped away.
At Claflin, about 450 people, mostly students, attended the Sanders event, where rapper Killer Mike introduced the Vermont senator.
“People deserve to be treated as well as any white man in America,” he said. “And for the first time in my life I have seen a politician call for true equality by way of policy and not asking me to wait.”
Sanders stuck to his themes of ending institutional racism in education, pushing for social justice and reducing the trends behind prison recidivism.
“We have too many people going through that pipeline — in and out,” Sanders said about the revolving door of prison. “So we’re going to make sure people have the education and jobs they need when they go back into society.”
That message resonated with Claflin freshman Kamri Williams. “I have family members who are in the system, in and out, so I know the cycle,” he said.
Williams said the campus is divided over Clinton and Sanders, and more seem to go toward Clinton as the campaign brings in celebrities and spends more.
“I think so many get caught up in the Clinton name,” she said.
One of the few times Sanders mentioned Clinton was when criticizing her on campaign finance reform.
“One of the differences between Secretary Clinton and myself is I don’t have a Super PAC,” he said. “I do not raise millions of dollars from Wall Street or powerful special interests.”
Sanders called out the incendiary rhetoric of GOP front-runner Donald Trump and the billionaire class again when he closed out his nearly 30-minute speech.
“If we don’t allow Trump and his friends to divide us up, if we stand together, we can do extraordinary things,” he said.