What a difference eight years makes.
In the run-up to South Carolina’s 2008 Democratic primary, then-S.C. Rep. Bakari Sellers was part of a “truth squad” that shadowed former President Bill Clinton around the state. Its purpose: call out distortions of Barack Obama’s record.
On Tuesday, Sellers was among more than 200 people at a southeast Charlotte fundraiser for Obama’s 2008 opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“In this race I think that Hillary is in the best position to build on President Obama’s legacy,” Sellers said, “whether it’s diplomacy, health care or criminal justice reform.”
People like Sellers are a big reason Clinton sees South Carolina’s Feb. 27 primary as a firewall for a campaign that could lose New Hampshire and even Iowa to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. The latest polls have her leading the Vermont senator by at least 40 points in the Palmetto State.
But Clinton led South Carolina polls before the 2008 primary, only to see her double-digit lead melt away as Obama’s support grew, particularly among African-Americans. Obama won by nearly 29 percentage points.
One South Carolina analyst said at the time that if Clinton went on to lose the nomination fight, “political analysts will look back and say South Carolina is where it started.”
Now Clinton hopes that the state that helped sink her in 2008 could help save her in 2016.
South Carolina’s primary comes less than two weeks before more than a dozen contests on “Super Tuesday.”
Aides say the campaign has hosted more than 1,600 grass-roots events, recruited thousands of volunteers and contacted nearly 700,000 voters by phones or by knocking on their doors. The campaign plans to have more than 20 phone banks set up by primary day.
Nothing, of course, is absolutely certain. Sanders drew 3,000 people to a Rock Hill rally late last year. He attracted 7,000 to a rally in Birmingham, Ala., on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
But in a state where more than half the Democratic primary electorate is African-American, Clinton has assiduously courted black support. And in Sunday’s debate against Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, she cast herself as Obama’s true heir.
So far it seems to be working.
Former Gov. Jim Hodges was an Obama supporter in 2008. Like Sellers, he was part of the truth squad that tracked statements from the Clinton campaign, particularly from the former president. Bill Clinton angered many black voters that year by criticizing Obama, and seeming to minimize his success.
This year, Hodges said, Clinton seems to have learned lessons from Obama’s first campaign, putting more attention on its ground game. And she has another advantage.
“She’s not running against Barack Obama,” Hodges said. “That’s a big difference. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime candidate, and he was particularly appealing in a state like South Carolina.”