Good morning from ATLANTA, where I’m in the fifth day of my road trip through the South ahead of the SEC Primary.
THE BIG IDEA:
— Hillary Clinton’s firewall in the South turns out to be quite durable.
Not only did black voters make up a greater share of the electorate in South Carolina’s Democratic primary than they did eight years ago, but preliminary network exit polls show that Clinton actually won the crucial constituency by a slightly wider margin on Saturday than Barack Obama did in 2008.
More than six in 10 voters yesterday were African American. Among them, Clinton led Bernie Sanders 86 percent to 14 percent, according to the exits. For context, the first black president beat Clinton 78 percent to 19 percent among South Carolina blacks during their face off.
It is sweet vindication for Hillary. She lost South Carolina to Obama by 29 points in 2008 and beat Sanders there yesterday by 47.5 points (with 100 percent of precincts now reporting). Then-Senator Obama’s victory in the Palmetto state gave him the advantage among pledged delegates. While the race dragged on for five more months, and she won big states at big moments, he would never again trail in the pledged delegate count.
Donella Wilson, who is 106, voted for Hillary because she loves the idea of seeing the first black president and the first woman president in her lifetime:
— White liberals do not a winning coalition make: Hillary will very likely win all the states with large black or brown populations. Bernie will win a bunch, but by no means all, of the states that are overwhelmingly white. (Hillary actually carried whites 54-46 in the South Carolina). Game it out, and factor in the establishment-minded super delegates, and Clinton now appears virtually certain to become the Democratic nominee.
— Non-white voters will account for more than 40 percent of Democrats who vote in the 11 contests on Tuesday.
- Black voters could be determinative in six Southern states that day: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. (It’s not like South Carolina was an outlier: she won black voters by 54 points in the Nevada caucuses.)
- Sanders’ strategists thinks he can win in five of the 11 states that vote Tuesday: Minnesota, Massachusetts, Vermont, Oklahoma and Colorado. Minorities will make up a relatively small percentage of the electorate in all but one of them.
- Texas, the biggest delegate prize on Tuesday, will be a telling window into how much traction Sanders has gotten among Hispanic voters. His campaign is adamant that they won Latinos in Nevada last weekend; the Clinton team is just as adamant that the entrance polls were wrong. Texas, where Clinton beat Obama 51-47 in 2008, will tell us who is right.
The host of “Meet the Press” called Clinton’s numbers “astonishing” and “Obama-esque”:
— Sanders may have spent relatively little time on the ground over the past week, but his campaign invested quite heavily in the Palmetto State: He had about 200 field staffers, opened 11 offices and spent $1.7 million on TV and radio ads. His team hoped to exceed low expectations; instead, they underperformed them. They will not be able to put these kinds of resources into any of the upcoming states.
— Hillary anchoring herself to the president is paying dividends: Seven in 10 South Carolina Democratic voters said they want the next president to continue Obama’s policies, rather than pursue a more liberal agenda. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last eight years, and Hillary is the best person out there to continue the progress,” Al Tucker, a 67-year-old African American, told one of my colleagues in Columbia. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball, who spoke with dozens of voters around South Carolina over the past week, argues that “a sense of familiarity” was another key factor that drove African Americans to Clinton. “They’d heard of Sanders and heard his ads, but didn’t feel they knew him personally,” she relays.
— The youth vote did not come through for Sanders this time. Clinton actually won black voters under 45 by a three-to-one margin, and there were not that many white voters under 45. Voters under 30 made up a smaller share of the electorate in South Carolina (about one-sixth) than any of the first three states.
— South Carolina Democrats were less liberal than their counterparts in Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada. Only 23 percent described themselves as “very liberal.” And while Sanders won this group by double digits in the first two contests, Clinton it in South Carolina by 40 points.
— “Hillary crushed Bernie among voters who agree that our economic system favors the wealthy. That’s his wheelhouse, and he won only 30 percent of their vote,” Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum notes.
— Sanders fared best among those who said “honesty” was the most important quality in their vote, but he only tied Clinton among these voters. Clinton did best among those who said their most prized quality was experience and electability. But, in good news for Clinton, about 7 in 10 South Carolina Democrats said they believe her to be honest and trustworthy. (CNN has a nice display of all the exit polling here.)