(CNN)If Bernie Sanders’ performance in New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada was a shot across the bow of his nervous opponent’s ship, then Hillary Clinton’s landslide victory in South Carolina is the equivalent of a massive missile defense shield on that bow.
“Rest assured,” voters in South Carolina seemed to say to Clinton, “you got this.”
Hillary Clinton’s South Carolina victory shows that her candidacy is durable, and that durability is just what she needs to survive the challenge from Sanders and finally prevail.
Now Clinton, whose campaign just days ago seemed deflated, heads toward Super Tuesday with a strong wind at her back. The South Carolina outcome does not decisively end the entire primary contest, but it presages what may be another strong outcome for Clinton this coming Tuesday.
Early estimates based on CNN exit polls show Clinton with as much as a 3-to-1 lead over Sanders. While those exit polls show that Sanders still won a majority of South Carolina’s white voters (by a 20 point margin), support from 80% of African-Americans who turned up at the polls on Saturday helped hand Clinton her overwhelming victory in the state.
Black voters made up a greater percentage of the overall voting base in Saturday’s primary, compared with the 2008 election, according to entrance polls. It’s still unclear whether that was because more black voters turned out this year than in 2008, or fewer white voters turned out this year– but the shift, along with Clinton’s commanding lead among black voters, appears to have helped the outcome.
Hillary Clinton: The cure for Citizens United is more democracy
Hillary Clinton: Cure for Citizens United is more democracy
Also, while CNN exit polls show Sanders still won among younger voters, they made up a fairly small share (15%) of the primary electorate. It’s also worth noting that, in South Carolina, Clinton won among voters across the ideological spectrum — including those who, in exit polls, identified themselves as “progressive.”
Now all eyes will turn to Super Tuesday. This Tuesday, March 1, Democratic voters will hold primaries in 11 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. Democratic voters in American Samoa will also caucus on Tuesday and Democrats living abroad will begin casting their votes. In total, 1,034 delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday — more than in all of the Democratic primary and caucus contests combined thus far.
Sanders has trained his eyes on five Super Tuesday states, Clinton has focused on six. Yet the ones in Clinton’s sights, and where she looks — at this point — likely to prevail, have more delegates than those on which Sanders is concentrating. In other words, millions of Americans may still be feeling the Bern, but the cold water of simple math may ultimately extinguish the flame.
That’s not to say that Sanders is out yet, or that his campaign has been for naught. It is arguably entirely because of Bernie Sanders that so much of Hillary Clinton’s campaign policy and rhetoric has steadily shifted its focus to economic inequality and the yawning wealth and opportunity gap in America.