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US Presidential race: Sanders rides ‘momentum’ into South Carolina

world Updated: Feb 22, 2016 22:35 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, speaks during a rally in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders began barnstorming South Carolina for the upcoming primary, telling supporters packing a large sports arena his campaign was gaining momentum.

He cited Nevada, where he lost to Hillary Clinton narrowly last Saturday, as evidence — he started there 25 percentage points behind five weeks ago, and ended just 5.3 points short.

“This campaign is gaining momentum every day,” Sanders told supporters, “because we are listening to the American people and we are listening in a way other campaigns don’t.”

He didn’t name Clinton but probably meant her as she desperately tries to reach out to critical demographics that are responding to Sanders better, especially the young.

Sanders attacked Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, several times though, projecting himself as the one to beat him. “There would be nothing that would give me greater pleasure than in fact beating Donald Trump.”

Sanders, a 74-year-old independent Senator from Vermont, has opened up the race for the Democratic presidential nomination that was once considered Clinton’s for the asking.

He lost the Iowa caucuses by the narrowest margin — several contests were decided by the toss of coins — and won in New Hampshire by a huge lead, 60.4% to 38%.

Sanders in now facing Clinton in the Democratic party’s fourth nominating contest, a primary in South Carolina this Saturday, with Clinton ahead of him 57.4% to 33.3% in polls.

But Sanders is determined to make a fight of it and so are his supporters. Lauren Warner, who brought her minor daughter along to the rally, can’t imagine him losing.

“I will be very disappointed if he loses,” she said, adding that as a Democrat she will vote for Clinton in the general election but only because she doesn’t see herself voting Republican.

But Sanders has a problem, and one, his supporters such as Warner acknowledge, is serious: he is polling poorly among African-Americans, who remain, largely, with Clinton.

And there were very few African-American at the rally.

Ashley Newton, a political consultant who entered politics as an intern in President Bill Clinton’s White House - a batch after Monica Lewinsky, as she likes to point out - defended Sanders.

“He has built a national coalition but South Carolina is a poor state and not many can afford to miss a day’s work to show up at a rally like this,” she said, more a supporter than a consultant.

A Washington Post polls shows Clinton’s favourability at 78% to Sanders’s 58% among African American voters, a clear indication of the job ahead for Sanders.

Clinton starts campaigning here on Tuesday, a day later but more confident: she leads polis here by a wide margin, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

She may even win the nomination, as some Sanders supporters said they believe she will, but they believe this would have been well worth the effort, and the fight, Newton said.

“This is also about changing the conversation and Bernie has done that, on the Democratic side at least,” she said. Clinton has indeed been forced to address some issues brought up by him.

One of Sanders’s pet themes — election funding reforms — figures often in her speeches now, for instance, and so does the attack the Wall Street, also a major plank for him.