Well, this is it. The last primary before things go bonkers in 72 hours for Super Tuesday. There’s probably not going to be any drama here…but as ever with politics, things could go from “Yawn” to “Holy crap, this recalibrates everything we thought we knew!” over the course of an hour or three.
The demography of South Carolina doesn’t favor Bernie Sanders, but it’s important to the discussion and why there are reasons to watch. South Carolina is actually an open primary, but there are reasons why today it’s going to act like a closed one. Anyone can vote in either primary, but we’re unlikely to see any shenanigans effect because the Republican primary last weekend was competitive enough that folks voted in that if they were Republican.
And so because the primary in South Carolina, open though it may be officially, will be acting like a closed one for all intents, that means that most of the folks voting in it are going to be that rarest of species: South Carolina Democrats. There may be as many spotted owls or snow leopards in the wild as there are South Carolina Democrats, and they tend to be fairly overwhelmingly African American.
So…don’t discount South Carolina and its small population of Democrats. I’d argue that they–as much as any single state–put Obama in the White House in 2008. Up through December of 2007, Hillary Clinton was still pulling 60% of the African American vote here. As that vote leaked away after Iowa, she hoped her wins in New Hampshire and Nevada would slow it down, but then Bill opened his damn fool mouth the week before and Barack Obama took 80% of the black vote, won by 29 points overall. That closed the deal with Caroline Kennedy and shortly thereafter Ted Kennedy. And when that happened, the Democratic establishment fully embraced Obama and the 2008 nomination was in the bag.
Could something like that happen tonight? Possibly something like it. You see, all polling of South Carolina suggests a comfortable double digit Hillary Clinton win here. Heck, we even have some early “exit polling” of a sort: the South Carolina office of elections reports that they’ve received over 50,000 early voting ballots for the Democratic primary, and of those 76 are from persons identifying as African American. That suggests good things for Mrs. Clinton tonight.
But…what if Bernie gets her lead to single digits? What if exit polling shows the split on African American votes going to her at less than 60%? What if Senator Sanders’s popularity goes from being with under 30 voters to under 40s? All of those things would show a significant expansion of his base in recent days. It would show that he’s able to command the kind of energy that we’ve seen in social media but not necessarily at the polls. It would make Super Tuesday super interesting. It would also make Democrats within the party who have stayed on the sidelines start to really, REALLY take a hard look at endorsing Sanders.
It would also be an insane result because Bernie’s spent some campaign money in South Carolina, but not tons. He’s playing expectation game here because he has to, and because he needs to do as much good as possible in 3 days and not fritter away resources here. So if he makes it a 10-12 point Clinton win or something like it, that’s kinda big news for him. It would definitely influence the way the Democrat typing this wall of text will vote on Tuesday.
But…I suspect that things will be fairly normal tonight and fairly dull. We’ll see. If Mrs. Clinton wins fairly big, it’s an ill omen for Senator Sanders, because it suggests that her coalition is holding steady and that she’ll win what she needs to on Tuesday and make this thing more an academic fight from here on out.
My predictions (which have all been TERRIBLE so far!):
Hillary Clinton: 58
Bernie Sanders: 39
(Also on a related note, because Super Tuesday is going to be important, if not as much so as previous years, I’ll probably start its game day thread on Sunday or Monday just because there’ll be plenty of Super Tuesday-specific scuttlebutt and chatter to hash out.)