A poll released yesterday shows Hillary Clinton hanging on to a huge lead over Bernie Sanders in South Carolina. Sanders trounced Clinton in New Hampshire after the two fought to what amounted to a draw in Iowa. Sanders leads among white voters and younger voters, the poll found, but the more diverse demographics in South Carolina favor Clinton.
The poll wonks at fivethirtyeight give Clinton a 99 percent chance of winning the South Carolina primary, to be held in two weeks. However, a long piece on MSNBC’s site argued that Sanders has established a better ground game in the state:
Even before Sen. Bernie Sanders began surging in early state and national polls, the Hillary Clinton campaign viewed South Carolina as her firewall, mainly due to her much higher standing and name recognition with black voters. But there are signs that the Clinton team may be falling behind the Sanders campaign, both in terms of organizing on the ground and exciting black voters, even as former Secretary Clinton maintains a large lead in the polls and prognosticators like FiveThirtyEight.com give her overwhelming odds of winning the state’s primary in two weeks.
Clinton arguably boasts experience in government unparalleled by anyone in the presidential field — but that has also made her a high-profile target for attack.
As of last week, the Clinton campaign had only two campaign offices in South Carolina: one in Charleston and another in the capital, Columbia, with just 14 full-time staffers including state director Clay Middleton. The campaign also has nine “get out the vote” sites – smaller-scale sites devoted to turnout – across the state.
The Sanders campaign, meanwhile, had 240 staffers on the ground as of last week – 80 percent of them African-American – spread across 10 offices statewide.
“That’s real infrastructure,” said one veteran South Carolina political consultant who was involved in the 2008 effort to elect Barack Obama and who spoke on background. “[Donald] Trump lost Iowa because his campaign didn’t have infrastructure and Ted Cruz did. That’s what gets people to the polls. And Hillary is the very person who should know about infrastructure, because that’s how she lost to Obama in 2008 in the first place.”
Later in the same story, however, one South Carolina insider says, “Hillary’s lead in South Carolina is simply insurmountable, due specifically to the black vote, and this notion that he’s peeling away black voters from her is a myth.” We’ll see, but unless the polls shift dramatically very soon, Clinton is the overwhelming favorite in South Carolina.
The race may be a dead heat in Nevada, however, which holds its caucus this Saturday. There has been much less polling in Nevada; Clinton once had a large lead, but the latest poll showed a tossup. Some pundits suggested that Team Clinton was trying to manage expectations after a staffer bizarrely said that Nevada was similar to Iowa and New Hampshire demographically. Reporter Jon Ralston explains:
After the disaster in snow-white New Hampshire and the near-death experience in colorless Iowa, Team Clinton suddenly was trying to make Nevada sound as if its rainbow of voters did not exist.
“There’s going to be a narrowing in both places (South Carolina and Nevada) — we’re clear-eyed about that,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon told NBC’s Chuck Todd, as reported by BuzzFeed’s Ruby Cramer. “There’s an important Hispanic element to the Democratic caucus in Nevada. But it’s still a state that is 80 percent white voters. You have a caucus-style format, and he’ll have the momentum coming out of New Hampshire presumably, so there’s a lot of reasons he should do well.”
80 percent white? What?
This canard was later repeated Wednesday by Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, according to Politico’s John Bresnahan. And it was then repeated on a conference call, ABC’s Liz Kruetz reported.
I understand the desire of Team Clinton to lower expectations in Nevada after being crushed by Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. But both Mook and Fallon know that 80 percent figure is ludicrous, and the attempt to make Nevada seem like Iowa and New Hampshire is a spin too far.
Nevada’s Hispanic population is about 27 percent. African-Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders make up almost 10 percent each. That is, nearly half of the state’s population is made up of minorities.
The Democratic caucus population was 35 percent minority in 2008, according to exit polls, and is expected to be as high as 40 percent in 2016, according to local Democratic sources. This is nothing like the 90 percent white caucus participation in Iowa, for instance.
Ralston spoke with Clinton, who walked back her staffers’ confusing comments:
Vox has an interesting interview with Sanders’s state director for Nevada, Joan Kato. Here’s Kato on the Sanders campaign’s outreach to Latinos:
We’re not just concentrating in one area of the state. In Iowa we weren’t just focusing on Des Moines; in Nevada we’re not just focusing on Las Vegas. We’ve done events in Reno, we have offices in other parts of the state. We have more offices in Nevada than any other presidential campaign.
We have a very strong Latino outreach presence here in the state. We have five Spanish publications’ endorsements in the state.
We have average, everyday people taking leadership roles in the campaign. If the only people we reached out to were people who were traditionally leaders in the community, what are we saying? Are we saying you can’t be an average person and be a leader in your community? If you’re involved in political action and volunteering two to three times a week, you’re a leader.