Sanders says he’s fighting hard in tough S.C. race Some think Clinton rival has ‘conceded state’ as he looks to Super Tuesday

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Democratic presidential hopeful, exits a news conference with state Reps. Justin Bamberg (right) and Joe Neal on Wednesday at the Doubletree Hilton in Columbia.

All signs point to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders cutting his losses in South Carolina and looking for a bigger return elsewhere.

While he insists the state — which holds its Democratic primary Saturday — remains a priority, Sanders’ schedule shows he’s splitting his time in Super Tuesday states.

Sanders traveled to Missouri and Oklahoma on Wednesday after leaving South Carolina in the morning. Thursday he’ll be in Ohio and Illinois, schedules indicate.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is expected to be in the state for the duration, including for a community rally Thursday night at the Royal Baptist Church’s Family Life Center in North Charleston beginning at 7:30 p.m.

During a meeting with reporters Wednesday in Columbia, Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, rebuffed the notion that he did not care about winning South Carolina.

“We have waged a very vigorous campaign,” he said. “We have picked up a lot of support and we have closed the gap very significantly. But this, from Day One, was going to be a very difficult state to win. We are fighting here in South Carolina as hard as we can.”

Sanders’ campaign staff said he’ll return to the state Friday and spend part of Saturday here, as well.

College of Charleston political scientist Kendra Stewart said the fact that Sanders is going elsewhere means he understands there’s not much to gain by staying here.

“I think he’s conceded the state,” she said, adding that it probably would have depleted most of Sanders’ financial resources to be competitive with Clinton here.

Some area Democrats see the race turning the same way. “I think clearly the Sanders campaign is putting in a lot of effort here but they’re very focused on Super Tuesday states now,” said Brady Quirk-Garvan, chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party.

Quirk-Garvan said it’s been difficult for Sanders to make as deep of an impact with the black community in South Carolina as what Clinton has been able to do through visits, surrogates, and her overall history and connections.

“Any Democrat who wants to win the White House has to do very well with the African-American community,” he said.

Some of the pro-Sanders efforts have been turned over to surrogates, including his wife Jane O’Meara Sanders, actor Danny Glover and former NAACP President Ben Jealous.

The Democrats have 10 states and one territory that will caucus or hold primaries Tuesday, with 1,004 delegates on the table. Of the 10 states holding primaries, seven are considered part of the county’s Southern geographic bloc or have large minority populations. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

For her part, Clinton kept up a full in-state schedule Wednesday that included visiting with the dockworker’s union in Charleston and speaking to Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority alumnae in Columbia. At the International Longshoremen’s Association union hall on Morrison Drive, Clinton thanked the membership again for their endorsement from last year, adding that she was there “to support workers, to support unions, to support Labor” and encouraging members to vote on Saturday.

Clinton is also expected to bring in surrogates in the last days, including daughter Chelsea and husband former President Bill Clinton, who is making five South Carolina stops in the next two days. Bill and Hillary Clinton will appear together Friday night in Columbia as the campaign winds down.

Before leaving the state Wednesday, Sanders told reporters he wanted to bring attention to how many children and adults are living in poverty in the country. He stated that no one who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty, dubbing the minimum wage “starvation wage.”

He called for creating “decent paying jobs” by investing in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. He also took a swipe at Clinton, who as first lady supported a welfare-reform act in 1996 that Sanders said went after “some of the weakest and vulnerable people in this country.”

Sanders also predicted a turnaround in polls that consistently in the last weeks have given Clinton as much as a 30-point lead in South Carolina.

“We are in this race to win and I think we’re going to pull off one of the great political upsets,” he said.