ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) — Bernie Sanders was back in South Carolina on Friday, but not for long.
As Hillary Clinton barnstormed across the state this week, Sanders was on a tour of middle America. He popped back for a few events in the hours before polls open Saturday in the state’s Democratic presidential primary, but will be on his way to end his day in Minnesota — out of the state and out of the South — by the time they close.
After months of trying to introduce himself to voters who have known Clinton for decades, African-Americans in particular, Sanders appeared to acknowledge the reality of his race in South Carolina in how he’s spent his time this past week. And he’s in search of friendlier terrain for Super Tuesday, looking for wins outside the South on the day next week when 11 states hold Democratic contests.
“There are some states that we are going to lose. But the race goes on,” Sanders said. “We are closing the gap very, very significantly.”
To be sure, the 74-year-old senator from Vermont hasn’t given up on the region. He has paid staff across the South, including about 200 in South Carolina alone, and will stop off in Texas on Saturday on his way to Minnesota.
But preference polls suggest Clinton has a huge advantage in the South among black voters, who are expected to make up a majority of voters to cast ballots on Saturday. Similar electorates will vote in Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas on March 1, in Louisiana on March 5 and in Mississippi on March 8.
In Orangeburg on Friday night, he received only a smattering of applause from the largely black crowd — it had energetically cheered Clinton just moments before — as he delivered a slightly tailored version of his economic message.
“One of her assets is familiarity,” said former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, who’s not endorsing a candidate in the primary. “This is his first time around the park. At the end of the day you vote for people that you know and trust and like.”
Sanders’ radio and television ads highlight his civil rights work as a college student in the 1960s, when he was arrested for protesting segregated housing in Chicago. This week, while leaving South Carolina largely to Clinton, he visited the majority black city of Flint, Michigan, where he listened to residents’ stories of living with a lead-poisoned water system.
Of a previous Flint visit, he said this week, “It was almost impossible for me to believe that I was listening to people in the United States of America in the year 2016.” And during a rally this week at Chicago State University, Sanders drew a crowd of 6,500 that was notably more racially diverse than many of his events.
But those weren’t voters who will cast ballots in the South, where Clinton has seemed to be one step ahead at every turn.
She, too, has visited Flint and speaks of it often in the South — doing so again Friday in Atlanta, where she campaigned with the city’s black mayor, Kasim Reed. He reminded the crowd of Clinton joining President Barack Obama’s Cabinet despite their bitter 2008 primary. When the president-elect called, Reed said, “she put her walking shoes on.”
Sanders and Clinton each visited Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina, at different points this week. Sanders got a lukewarm welcome as he spoke during a Sunday luncheon. Clinton got a rousing welcome a few days later from an alumni gathering of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a black sorority.
Sanders has used surrogates like Atlanta rapper Killer Mike. Clinton answers with her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
The senator promises criminal justice reform and bemoans police brutality against black citizens. Erica Garner, whose father died after a New York City police office administered a choke hold, has campaigned for him.
Clinton answered by meeting with five mothers whose children died in police encounters. At a campaign stop in Kingstree, South Carolina, she recalled the gathering: “It just breaks your heart to hear those stories, my friends.”
While Sanders has attracted endorsements from several state legislators, Clinton counters with heavyweights such as Reps. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon who questioned Sanders’ civil rights bona fides.
Mississippi Democratic Chairman Rickey Cole, who supports Clinton, noted Mississippi native Morgan Freeman is narrating one of Clinton’s newest television ads and that Clinton just picked up an endorsement from former Gov. William Winter.
The 93-year-old Winter, Cole noted, “was governor here when Bill was first elected (governor) in Arkansas in 1978, and served as a mentor” to the future president.
“Politics really is about relationships,” Cole said. “And she’s using hers to great advantage.”
Barrow reported from Atlanta and Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press writer Ken Thomas in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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