Could defeat in South Carolina end the Bernie Sanders campaign?

Voters in South Carolina head to the polls Saturday to vote in the Democratic primary, in what is expected to be a clear victory for Hillary Clinton. 

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally at Chicago State University, Feb. 25.

Bernie Sanders is expected to suffer a crushing defeat Saturday as South Carolina voters take to the polls.

In a move that many observers regard as an admission of defeat, the Vermont senator left the state Saturday morning to focus on battles to come in other parts of the country.

If the polls are right, and Hillary Clinton cruises to victory in South Carolina, is the Democratic race over?

“You can’t completely count out Sanders,” said Geoffrey Skelley, political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, in a telephone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “Clinton still has this FBI investigation hanging over her.”

Besides, South Carolina was always going to be a more challenging proposition for the Vermont senator than previous states, considering its racial make-up, note observers. Senator Sanders is fighting “against the perception that he comes from a state that is 99 per cent white, despite his considerable efforts at outreach to the black community,” notes the Independent.

“If we win South Carolina, I think it does start to make people look at the race a little differently,” said Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, a past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who has made four trips to South Carolina to campaign for Mrs. Clinton.

“I think Sanders will stay in the race for a while, but I think as we start to go into more states where the population is more diverse, it’s indicative of where the campaign is going,” she told Politico.

Sanders admitted that South Carolina is a “hard state for us, no ifs, buts, and maybes,” reported The Washington Post.

Her strong showing in 2008 gave her a leg up, he said. “She has names of many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who supported her. You start off with that, you have those votes in the bank, and you go on,” Sanders said.

“You know what? I started off without one person voting for us. We have to earn every bloody vote, and that’s hard stuff. Hillary Clinton has very strong roots in the African American community. We have had to build those roots,” he said.

The latest opinion polls in South Carolina reflect this, showing Clinton leading by an average of 36 points.

So it was that Saturday morning bore witness to Mr. Sanders making for the horizon, boarding a plane to whisk him away to Texas, one of more than 10 states to cast their ballots on March 1st, Super Tuesday.

Sanders is fighting an uphill battle in the Lone Star state as well, with three separate surveys on Thursday giving Clinton leads of anywhere between 29 and 40 points.

Are Texas and South Carolina bellwethers for the rest of the country?

Real Clear Politics reports that most surveys over the past week gave Sanders only two substantive leads – one in his home state of Vermont, the other in West Virginia – as well as a one point lead in Wisconsin.

Clinton leads in a staggering 26 opinion polls stretching across 14 states, from Texas, Florida and Georgia, up through the Carolinas and New Jersey, all the way to Massachusetts, Michigan, and Illinois.

If South Carolina delivers Clinton a big win, it could heal the wounds from her battle against then-Sen. Barack Obama eight years ago, as well as launch her toward her long-coveted prize: the Democratic nomination.

“In the final days before Saturday’s primary, Clinton’s rival, Bernie Sanders, has seen the writing on the wall,” writes Molly Ball in The Atlantic. “He has tried mightily to win here—it just hasn’t worked. As a result, this state, and the black vote, may prove as fatal to his candidacy as they did to Clinton’s in 2008.”

Polls close at 7 p.m. in South Carolina, the last state to vote before Super Tuesday.

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