COLUMBIA — With Super Tuesday taking place just days after South Carolina’s Democratic primary — and Hillary Clinton far ahead in most polls — Clinton and Bernie Sanders are employing different approaches to courting South Carolina voters.
While Hillary Clinton will spend every day through Saturday in South Carolina, Sanders is setting his eyes on Super Tuesday states, raising questions about his viability in the Palmetto State.
Though Clinton and Sanders both have their sights on winning more than just South Carolina, Clinton is expected to hold daily events in the Palmetto State, while surrogates are likely to represent Sanders.
Scheduled appearances for both candidates are still fluid, but Sanders is expected to skip South Carolina on Wednesday and Thursday.
Both Sanders and Clinton are expected to bounce between South Carolina and Super Tuesday states, where close to 900 delegates in 11 states are up for grabs, with Clinton favored to collect most of them.
By contrast, South Carolina has 59 Democratic delegates.
College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said the view that South Carolina remains a “firewall” state for Clinton doesn’t seem to be weakening.
“This will be the equivalent of what Sanders was able to do in New Hampshire and all signs point to Clinton having a good day on Saturday,” Knotts said. “Clearly if the campaigns aren’t coming here that shows that the Sanders folks feel like their resources may be better spent somewhere else.”
Strategically, it would make sense for Sanders to look beyond South Carolina, Knotts added. The West and Northeast seem like a better shot for Sanders, whereas the Midwest and South are more difficult. Plus, Clinton has held a strong lead in South Carolina over Sanders, beating him by a wide margin in most polls. Neal Thigpen, a retired Francis Marion University political science professor, said it’s clear candidates are also looking down the road.
“The sentiment seems to be that Nevada was a big win for her and really took a chink out of Bernie,” Thigpen said. “I just don’t know about that, but both candidates feel like it’s a foregone conclusion here.”
That’s a notion the Sanders campaign rebuffed.
Chris Covert, his state campaign director, said the Vermont senator will be visiting South Carolina, but that he also has to target Super Tuesday states.
“I don’t think it really means anything other than the fact that you’re running a national campaign,” Covert said. “We’re still going to be really aggressive.”
Covert added that Sanders hopes to target a large number of the Palmetto State’s undecided voters through neighborhood canvassing and other 11th-hour activities.
Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Orangeburg, who made headlines earlier this year when he switched his endorsement from Clinton to Sanders, acknowledged that Sanders has a bit of a name recognition problem to overcome with South Carolina voters. Plus, Bill Clinton was an extremely likeable president, something Hillary Clinton seems to be benefiting from, Bamberg said.
“We happen to live in a state where, oftentimes, people are set in their ways a little bit,” Bamberg said. “They don’t like to step outside of their zone of comfort. And a candidate like Bernie Sanders is not a status quo, typical-type of presidential candidate.”
But there’s more to Clinton’s popularity than just being part of the status quo, said state House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia. Rutherford, who announced his backing of Clinton earlier this month, said she showed in Nevada how well-versed she was with issues that impact minority communities. During a town hall, Rutherford said he saw Clinton hit her stride.
He hopes that South Carolina will solidify its stance as the state that picks candidates who go on to win the nomination in both parties.
Rutherford added that having her win as she is expected to by a large margin will forever leave the Palmetto State ingrained in the minds of the nation’s politicos.
“If she can do what Obama did in South Carolina, it goes a long way toward closing the race, period,” Rutherford said. “Just like it did for Obama.”
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