Beaufort County Democrats will land squarely in Hillary Clinton’s corner during Saturday’s presidential primary, say local party leaders.
Clinton, a former secretary of state, leads her opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by a margin of 64 percent to 14 percent among likely voters who have cast ballots in two of the last three statewide primaries, according to a recent Clemson University Palmetto Poll.
That lead is fueled by Clinton’s dominant support in the black community, which makes up more than half of the S.C. democratic electorate, polls show.
Beaufort County Democrats are following the statewide trend, said Beaufort County Democratic Party Chair Blaine Lotz, a Clinton supporter.
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“She’s the heavy favorite here,” Lotz said. “There is a deep history with the Clintons from past campaigns and that’s something I think Sanders just couldn’t make up for.”
Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, easily carried Beaufort County in the 1992 primary. Although Barack Obama handily won the county over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary, Lotz predicted many Obama supporters will support Hillary this election, as she served as secretary of state in the Obama administration.
“She’s seen as more of a continuation of the Obama legacy,” Lotz said. “And that only helps her here where the president is still very popular (among Democrats).”
Local demographics on Clinton’s side
In past elections, African American voters are traditionally the driving force behind the county winner. Black voters have made up more than half of the electorate in every democratic primary in Beaufort County except for 2008, which saw unprecedented voter turnout in predominantly white precincts.
There is a deep history with the Clintons from past campaigns and that’s something I think Sanders just couldn’t make up for.
Blaine Lotz, Beaufort County Democratic Party Chair
Older voters also come out in high numbers in Beaufort County compared with the rest of the state. In 2008, for example, people older than 45 made up 89 percent of democratic primary voters in the county compared with 76 percent statewide. That is likely an advantage for Clinton as she leads Sanders 69 to 23 among older Democrats, according to a February NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of S.C. Democrats.
Older supporters such as Maribeth Somers, 71, of Port Royal, see Clinton as a historic candidate.
“I’m not so young anymore and I do want to see the first woman president,” said Somers. “And I think she has the experience and the intelligence for the job.”
Sanders fighting for local support
Despite the positive signs for Clinton, Sanders has worked to build support both locally and throughout South Carolina. He is the only democratic candidate to make a campaign stop in Beaufort County this election season, though Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, campaigned on her behalf in Bluffton Friday.
In November, Sanders visited with hundreds of local voters at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. It was part of a tour of S.C. churches and community centers to make inroads with the state’s black community.
And Sanders has some notable local advocates, including John Glover, vice chair of the Beaufort County Democratic Party.
Glover said he is often the only Sanders supporter at local democratic meetings and has long respected Sanders’ consistent call to fight for economic equality and prison reform.
“No one is going to tell me who to vote for,” Glover said. “I will make up my own mind based on what I believe and Bernie is the same way. You know he believes what he says.”
Sanders has conceded he has had a lot of ground to make up to win in South Carolina, but said his support has grown significantly.
"When we started in South Carolina, my message wasn't resonating with anybody," he said in a CNN town hall this week, answering a question about why his message isn't connecting as well with blacks in the state.
"I'm running against a candidate who is one of the best known people in the world, a candidate who ran here a very strong campaign in 2008, who knows a whole lot of people," Sanders continued. "So we started with no support. Our support has grown and it has grown in the African-American community."
The campaign has continued to run ads in the state on TV and radio and has more than 160 part-time staffers and about 50 full-time staff members in South Carolina, according to a Sanders press conference Wednesday.
Clinton now has more than 100 paid staffers in the state, according to a recent campaign news release.
Despite the short time before the primary, there are still undecided voters the Sanders campaign may yet be able to woo, including Victoria Smalls of St. Helena Island. The Clemson University Palmetto Poll, conducted between Saturday and Thursday, found 22 percent of likely Democratic voters are still undecided.
“I like to take my time to really listen to what the candidates are saying,” said Smalls. “I like Hillary’s experience, but Bernie seems like he’s speaking to me, like he’s speaking to the grassroots. I guess I’ll have to make up my mind soon.”Video: Where does Bernie Sanders stand on the issues?
Get Out the Vote Rally with President Bill Clinton
Where: Bluffton Recreation Center, 61 Ulmer Road
When: 4 p.m.
Doors Open: 3:15 p.m.
RSVP: Visit https://www.hillaryclinton.com/events/view/1894161/
Voter guide for the Democratic primary
When to vote: Polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Those in line by 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
Where to vote: Visit the S.C. Election Commission website. There, you can enter your personal information and find out where to vote.
Are you’re eligible to vote in Saturday’s primary?: South Carolina has open primaries, so you can vote in either the GOP or Democratic presidential primary — but you cannot vote in both. Only candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination will appear on Saturday’s ballot. Primaries for state and local offices won’t be held until June. If you vote in the Republican presidential primary, you can still vote in the Democratic primary in June, and vise versa.
What to bring: Be prepared to show one of the following photo IDs:
- S.C. Driver’s license
- ID card issued by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles
- S.C. Voter Registration Card with photo
- Federal Military ID
- U.S. passport