(CN) – Hillary Clinton cruised to victory in the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary Saturday, swamping Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 74 percent to 26 percent with 100 percent of the vote counted.
Clinton’s easy win, which had been predicted for several days, appears to give her substantial momentum heading toward Super Tuesday, when Democrats will vote in 11 states (and American Samoa).
She received word of her landslide victory at a primary night watch party at the University of South Carolina’s volleyball center in Columbia, S.C., after having spent the day campaigning in Alabama.
When the race was called shortly after 7 p.m., Sanders was said to be flying and without internet access while en route to a campaign rally in Minnesota. earlier in the day he appeared at two rallies in Texas, one in Dallas and the other in Austin. The latter reportedly drew a crowd of more than 10,000.
Polls released ahead of Saturday’s vote in South Carolina ranged widely, with the CNN/ORG International poll released Feb. 16 predicting the smallest margin victory at 18 percent, and a Clemson University poll released just this week showing her to have a 50-point advantage over Sanders.
A Real Clear Politics average of nine different polls predicted Clinton would win with 58.2 percent of the voter, while Sanders garnered 30.7 percent a spread of 27.5 percent.
Prior to Saturday, Clinton had won two of three previous Democratic contests, Iowa and Nevada (although the Sanders campaign, with some justification, calls Iowa a tie), and Sanders had won in New Hampshire.
However, until Saturday night, the two candidates were separated by just the barest of margins in the “pledged delegate” count (as opposed to “superdelegates”), with Clinton having won 52 and Sanders, 51. With 53 delegates in play, South Carolina is the biggest contest Clinton and Sanders have competed in thus far.
In South Carolina, 35 delegates are awarded based finishes in each of the state’s seven congressional districts, another 11 are considered at-large delegates won based on statewide finish, while the final seven are party leaders and officials who are bound to the results of the primary.
All of these “pledged delegates are awarded on a proportional basis, with a 15 percent threshold. When the dust settled Saturday night, Clinton was expected to win 39 of South Carolina’s delegates to Sanders’s 14.
A word on superdelegates for clarity. Super delegates are Democratic party officials who are not bound by the voting results of the primary. They pledge their support for their preferred candidate. In terms of super delegates who have committed to supporting a candidate to date, Clinton leads by a large margin with 451, while Sanders has just 19.
This gives Clinton a huge advantage on paper. However, these delegates can also change their mind. In 2008, for instance, many of the super delegates pledges to her ultimately supported then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Clinton lost a hotly contested South Carolina Democratic primary to then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. On that day, Obama won by garnering 78 percent of the black vote. He beat her by a total of 55.4 percent to 26.5 percent.
This time, despite her rosy poll numbers, left nothing to chance.
While Sanders focused primarily on campaigning in Super Tuesday states that he is considered more competitive in, the former secretary of state spent Tuesday through Friday in South Carolina, focusing especially on the state’s black voters.
Over the course of those four days she held a series of town hall meetings in black communities, several of them featuring the moths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Jordan Davis. Clinton also benefited from several key endorsements in the community, none bigger than that of Re. James Clyburn, the former House Majority Whip. Exit polls on Saturday suggested these efforts were monumentally successfully, with Clinton receiving 87 percent of the black vote, to Sanders’s 13 percent.
She also had some high profile surrogates, including her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who focused his efforts on the Midlands and Upstate regions of the state, her daughter Chelsea Clinton, who focused on getting out the student vote appearing at the College of Charleston on Friday, among other stops and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who campaigned for her in Columbia and Florence, S.C.
For icing on the cake, the Clinton campaign rolled out a new national television narrating by the actor Morgan Freeman, touting her commitment to minority communities, children of color, and civil rights.
“The hard part is getting beyond the Clinton brand,” said former NAACP chairman Ben Jealous, who visited South Carolina last week on Sander’s behalf.
“The Clinton brand is a bit like Coca-Cola,” he said. “It’s a Southern brand and one everybody knows.”
Not everyone was charmed by Clinton’s efforts, however.
On primary day, several of Clinton’s campaign signs in the Charleston area were defaced with additions like the words “Liar” and “Serial Liar,” and outside one polling place in North Charleston, a Marco Rubio sign left standing after last week’s Republican presidential primary was amended with a sign that said, “Clinton for Prison.”
For his part Sanders did what he could to garner the support of the state’s black community, which makes up close to 54 percent of South Carolina’s Democratic electorate. Former Princeton professor Cornel West visited the state on his behalf, and in two last-minute appearances on Friday, the senator appeared with the rapper Killer Mike.
In addition, by mid-week the campaign was running a radio advertisement featuring the director Spike Lee. He also garnered the endorsement of attorney Justin Bamberg, who represents the family of Walter Scott, the unarmed black man killed by a North Charleston police officer last April.
“When we first came here, we knew very few people,” Sanders told supporters at Claflin University in the predominately black community of Orangeburg, S.C. on Friday. “But in the last nine months, we have come a very long way, and that’s because of your support.”
Mid-day Saturday, about two dozen volunteers in Sander’s Charleston headquarters continued to call voters to encourage them to go to the polls. By then, stoic optimism was mingled with a sense of tension. Courthouse News was barred from talking to Sanders volunteers by a supervisor, who then asked the reporter to stand on the street outside the office while she called the campaign.
The supervisor then came outside, explaining the reporter could not so much as set a foot inside until he got permission from higher up the Sanders hierarchy.
Inside, those seated at telephones dressed in white “Sanders for President” t-shirts range the gamut of young to senior citizen, with men and women in about equal number.
But it is with those under 30 to whom Sanders continued to appeal most as primary day approached. A rally in Charleston 10 days ago drew 3,000 people, and another, in Greenville on Feb 21, drew 8,000 enthusiastic supporters.
To them he preached change and their potential to have a hand in shaping the future.
“Welcome to the political revolution,” Sanders told his appreciative Greenville audience.
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