Hillary Clinton is poised for redemption.
If polls hold true, the former secretary of state – making her second run for the White House – will win the S.C. Democratic primary Saturday, beating U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont thanks to overwhelming support from African-American voters.
Support from those black voters – expected to cast at least half the ballots Saturday – would settle the question of whether they hold a grudge against Clinton for the bitterly fought 2008 S.C. primary.
Some Democrats say the 2008 fight, when Hillary and Bill Clinton were accused of injecting race into the campaign and dismissing then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, still weighs on their minds.
“While there might have been some reconciliation between the Clintons and African Americans in South Carolina, I would beg to differ,” said Gloria Tinubu, a former Democratic nominee for the state’s 7th District congressional seat and a Sanders supporter. “People ... have not forgiven.”
Others say they have moved on.
“It’s the past,” said Lady June Cole, president of Allen University and a Clinton supporter.
Endorsing Hillary Clinton last week, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn said the 2008 race was behind him. He touted the good relationships he has with the candidate and the former president.
In his 2014 memoir, Clyburn described a phone call from Bill Clinton in the early morning after Obama won the S.C. primary, demanding to know why his wife had lost.
“If you bastards want a fight, you damn well will get one,” the former president said, according to Clyburn, who added in his memoir that Bill Clinton was supporting his wife, as spouses are supposed to do.
Clyburn’s endorsement of Clinton is a reversal from his previous pledge to remain neutral in the race. It could help Clinton solidify her support among African Americans, especially older voters who have long known and respected the congressman.
But Clyburn’s backing is not the only sign that tides have turned for Clinton eight years after 2008.
More than two dozen Democratic state legislators, including many African Americans, have endorsed Clinton. Black mayors, local elected officials and former legislators also have backed her formally.
Some S.C. Democrats say what happened in 2008 has been blown out of proportion, including Bakari Sellers, a former state representative and a member of Obama’s “truth squad” in 2008 – a group of top S.C. Democrats who challenged the candidate’s critics.
“Voters (in 2008) didn’t throw Hillary Clinton under the bus as much as we embraced Barack Obama,” he said.
Voters have ‘wrestled’ with ’08 campaign
In the heat of the2008 race, Clinton saw a commanding lead evaporate as Democrats seized the historic opportunity to elect the nation’s first black president.
In the buildup to the S.C. primary, the race became tinged with what some Democrats heard as racially insensitive comments.
Hillary Clinton took heat for saying Martin Luther King’s “dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act,” adding “it took a president to get it done.” Obama said the comments diminished King’s role in bringing about the legislation. Clinton said her comments were being distorted.
Bill Clinton drew ire from black Democrats when he compared Obama’s campaign to a “fairy tale” and reminded voters that Greenville-native Jesse Jackson had won South Carolina’s nominating contests in the 1980s, but did not win the Democratic nomination, a comment some saw as dismissing Obama’s chances because of his race.
Some S.C. Democrats say memories of 2008 have not been completely banished from this year’s campaign.
Cole, a Clinton supporter, said she was talking with a friend who “wrestled with it, and she decided that she was going to move forward.”
“We have to look forward, not back, and we have to weigh the candidates and make the best choice for ourselves,” Cole said.
Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. NAACP, said he hopes black S.C. Democrats will move on, but he has heard some people complain about the ’08 rift.
“I tell folks, ‘Get a life. How many years are you going to carry that type of meanness and that type of hate around?’ ” Randolph said, adding there are too many important issues to weigh this year to worry about a campaign eight years ago.
For example, he said: “The next president of the United States will appoint several persons to the Supreme Court.”
‘She’s an establishment candidate’
The 2008 falling out with the Clintons is not impacting this year’s primary, said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon, adding 2008 primarily is raised by Sanders supporters and reporters.
Sanders supporters use the incident to suggest Clinton’s relationship with black voters “isn’t as great as people say,” he said.
But to Clinton supporters, Huffmon added, 2008 was “like a family feud that’s been resolved. She seems to have been forgiven not seven but 77 times.
“It’s not that it’s been completely forgotten, but it doesn’t seem to be a wedge issue driving black voters away from Clinton.”
Clinton’s position in the polls buttresses the idea that she has been redeemed in the eyes of S.C. voters. Clinton has a more than 20-point lead in the race.
Clinton leads Sanders 68 percent to 21 percent among S.C. black Democratic voters, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released last week. Among African-American voters 45 and older, Clinton has an even larger 66-point lead. However, Sanders has been somewhat more competitive among younger blacks, trailing Clinton by 17 points.
Clinton has been banking on South Carolina as a political firewall, protecting her against the historic beating she received in New Hampshire earlier this month.
Backing from Clyburn and the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus should help Clinton maintain her support among African-American voters. Clyburn’s endorsement “is particularly meaningful definitely for middle-aged and older African Americans,” Huffmon said. “They know him well, and he is an icon to them and younger folks.”
Still, some Democrats have not moved on.
“It amazes me, as folks wrap themselves in Barack Obama, that a lot of those things aren’t brought back to memory,” said state Rep. Joe Neal, referring to Clinton’s promise to continue Obama’s legacy.
Neal said he is supporting Sanders “because I believe what he’s saying. That’s the message that can save this country and the middle class, and the people in my community who are struggling.
“Hillary is a wonderful person. I have a lot of respect for her and for Bill,” he added. “But the reality is, she is an establishment candidate, and we need another voice outside the establishment challenging the way things are.”
Neal said Sanders is offering a more progressive vision than Clinton, who he fears will govern too much toward the political center in an effort to reach compromises.
“It’s only when you have two positions that are very different that you can have true compromise,” Neal said. “When one side moves to the middle and the other side hasn’t moved an inch, that’s not compromise. That’s surrender.”
S.C. Democratic primary
Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will face off in the state’s Democratic primary Saturday. A look at how they are faring among Democrats and African Americans in S.C. polls:
Average of S.C. polls, according to Real Clear Politics:
Hillary Clinton: 57 percent
Bernie Sanders: 33 percent
NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist S.C. poll, taken Feb. 15-17, margin of error 4.8 percent:
Support among African-American voters age 45 and older
Hillary Clinton: 78 percent
Bernie Sander: 12 percent
Support among African-American voters under 45
Hillary Clinton: 52 percent
Bernie Sanders: 45 percent
18 points: Clinton’s smallest lead in two mid-February polls
70 points: Clinton’s largest lead, in a poll in last summer