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Hillary Clinton cruises to big win in South Carolina over Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters as she arrives to speak to supporters at her election night watch party for the South Carolina Democratic primary in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

COLUMBIA, S.C. —  Hillary Clinton overwhelmed Bernie Sanders in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, drawing staggering support from the state’s black Democrats and seizing an increasingly strong position as the presidential race barrels toward Super Tuesday’s crucial contests.

Clinton’s lopsided win provided an important boost for her campaign — and a moment to wipe away bitter memories of her loss to Barack Obama in South Carolina eight years ago.

During a raucous victory rally, Clinton briefly reveled in her sweeping support from South Carolina voters, hugging backers and posing with them for selfie photos. But then she pivoted quickly to the contests to come.

“Tomorrow, this campaign goes national,” she said. “We are not taking anything, and we are not taking anyone, for granted.”

Sanders, expecting defeat on Saturday, left the state even before voting was finished and turned his attention to some of the states that vote in next Tuesday’s delegate-rich contests.

In Minnesota, Sanders told reporters: “In politics, on a given night, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Tonight, we lost. We intend to win many, many of them.”

Clinton’s victory came at the end of a day that saw Republican candidates firing insults at each other from Super Tuesday states. Donald Trump, working to build an insurmountable lead, was campaigning in Arkansas with former rival Chris Christie and calling Marco Rubio a “light little nothing;” Ted Cruz was asking parents in Atlanta if they would be pleased if their children spouted profanities like the brash billionaire. And Rubio was mocking Trump as a “con artist” with “the worst spray tan in America.”

Clinton allies quickly touted the breadth of her victory. Besides blacks, she won most women and voters 30 and older, according to early exit polls.

Sanders continued to do well with young voters, his most passionate supporters. He also carried those who identified themselves as independent and most white voters.

A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders has energized his supporters with impassioned calls for breaking up Wall Street banks and making tuition free at public colleges and universities. But the senator from Vermont, a state where about 1 percent of the population is black, lacks Clinton’s deep ties to the African-American community.

Exit polls showed six in 10 voters in the South Carolina primary were black. About seven in 10 said they wanted the next president to continue Obama’s policies. Only about 20 percent wanted a more liberal course of action, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.

Clinton’s sweeping victory suggested South Carolina voters had put aside any lingering tensions from her heated 2008 contest with Obama. Former President Bill Clinton made statements during that campaign that were seen by some, including influential South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, as questioning the legitimacy of the black presidential contender.

This time, Clyburn endorsed Clinton, and her husband was well-received as he traveled the state on her behalf. She focused on issues with particular resonance in the black community and held an emotional event with black mothers whose children died in shootings.

Clinton’s second White House bid lurched to an uneven start, with a narrow victory over Sanders in Iowa and a crushing loss to the senator in New Hampshire. She pulled off a 5-point win over Sanders in last week’s Nevada caucus, a crucial victory that helped stem Sanders’ momentum.

Clinton’s campaign hopes her strong showing in South Carolina foreshadows similar outcomes in states like Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia that vote Tuesday and have large minority populations.

Taken together, 865 Democratic delegates are up for grabs in the Super Tuesday contests in 11 states and American Samoa. Sanders is hoping to stay close to Clinton in the South while focusing most of his attention on states in the Midwest and Northeast, including his home state of Vermont.

Clinton’s campaign sees a chance to build enough of a delegate lead to put the race out of reach during the sprint through March.

Clinton’s will pick up most of South Carolina’s delegates, widening her overall lead in AP’s count. With 53 delegates at stake, Clinton will win at least 31. Sanders picked up at least 12.

Going into South Carolina, Clinton had just a one-delegate edge over Sanders. But she also has a massive lead among superdelegates — the Democratic Party leaders who can vote for the candidate of their choice at this summer’s national convention, regardless of how their states vote.

Including superdelegates, Clinton now has at least 536 delegates, according to AP’s count. Sanders has at least 83.
It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination.