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Clinton Claims Decisive Victory Over Sanders in South Carolina

The former secretary of state defeated Bernie Sanders, thanks in part to a historic turnout from black voters, but she used her victory speech to attack Donald Trump.
Photo by Erik S. Lesser/EPA

Hillary Clinton tonight claimed a decisive victory over Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina Democratic primary, winning at least eight in ten black voters who made up a historic portion of the Democratic vote in the first-in-the-south primary, according to exit polls.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton lead with 74 percent to Sanders' 26 percent. That nearly 50-point lead represents a huge victory for Clinton in a state she was expected to win, but by about half that margin according to many recent polls.


Early exit polls, taken as voters finished casting their ballots Saturday evening, showed that a record number — at least 60 percent of Democratic voters — who turned up to vote in South Carolina Saturday night were African-Americans. Exit polling showed such an advantage for Clinton that when voting closed at 7pm ET, before actual results had even begin to roll in, the Associated Press and several other news organizations called a win for the former secretary of state.

Related: Hours Before South Carolina Primary, 1,500 Pages of Hillary Clinton Emails Are Released

The win in South Carolina tonight follows Clinton's successes in Nevada, where she received 76 percent of the black vote, and in Iowa. Clinton's triumphs in three of four early states, put the former secretary of state in a dominant position in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, when a dozen states and one territory will hold nomination contests. Six of those contests will take place in the South, where the black vote that currently heavily favors Clinton will play a major role.

Shortly after 7:45pm, a smiling Clinton delivered a victory speech in Columbia, SC, the state's capitol.

"I am so greatly appreciative because today you sent a message," Clinton said. "We've now gone through four early states and I want to congratulate Senator Sanders on running a good race."

Clinton told supporters that after the first four primary contests, three of which she won: "tomorrow this campaign goes national."


Clinton thanked her supporters, governors, and legislators in the state, with a special mention for US Rep. Jim Clyburn, with whom the Clinton has had a long and at times rocky relationship. Clyburn, an an African-American Democrat, introduced her tonight after backing Barack Obama in 2008.

Clinton seemed to turn her focus to the general election Saturday night, calling out Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, although not by name. "Despite what you may hear we don't need to America great again, America has never stopped being great," she said to huge applause. "But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to tear down barriers."

Tonight's victory puts to rest the ghosts of 2008 when Clinton lost South Carolina to Obama. That year, Obama who inspired a record turnout among black voters, one that Clinton beat tonight. In 2016, Clinton has used not only her husband's lasting influence in the community, but also seized on Obama's cachet in the state through positioning herself as the president's natural successor.

Clinton also thanked supporters for her victory on Twitter on Saturday night.

To South Carolina, to the volunteers at the heart of our campaign, to the supporters who power it: thank you. -H — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton)February 28, 2016

Sanders conceded the race to Clinton in a statement Saturday night, just moments after the polls closed, but sought to downplay the significance of this single victory, arguing that he "was all but unknown [in South Carolina] when this campaign began 10 months ago."


Sanders also thanked African-American state representatives including Terry Alexander and Justin Bamberg who backed his campaign in South Carolina. Sanders, who is looking ahead to Super Tuesday where 865 Democratic delegates will be up for grabs.

"In just three days, Democrats in 11 states will pick 10 times more pledged delegates on one day than were selected in the four early states so far in this campaign," Sanders said in the statement. "Our grassroots political revolution is growing state by state, and we won't stop now."

Sanders did not speak in South Carolina Saturday night, but instead flew to Minnesota, one of the states that will vote on Super Tuesday, where he made no mention of the contest, but gave a version of his typical stump speech.

VICE News spent this week in South Carolina, looking at the so-called "black vote" and the Clinton's legacy among African-American voters. See more from our report here:

America's Election 2016: South Carolina's Black Vote.

Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that black voters made up a historic portion of the Democratic vote on Saturday night. Their numbers did not represent historic turnout overall.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @Lianzifields