A Look Into Sanders’ South Carolina Failure

Last Saturday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dominated the presidential primary in South Carolina with almost 74 percent of the vote, leaving Sen. Bernie Sanders with just 26 percent.

These results were far off from what pre-primary polls, which had Sanders just 20 points below Clinton, predicted.

So what happened?

According to Scott Huffmon of Winthrop University in Winthrop, South Carolina, 55 to 65 percent of Democratic voters in South Carolina are black. These voters, according to Winthrop, have had an allegiance to Clinton since her husband’s presidency.

David Woodard, Thurmond Professor of Political Science at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, expressed another reason for Clinton’s victory in South Carolina. “This is the state that fought the Civil War,” he said. “We’re not friendly to socialists down here.”

As for me, I was on the ground in Columbia, South Carolina, the state’s capital. I followed Sanders’ campaign from Friday to Sunday. This is what I saw.

Despite the primary being two days away, Sanders made a quick trip to Flint, Michigan and Chicago to meet with officials as well as host rallies – one of which I attended – on Thursday, Feb. 25. He returned to South Carolina on Friday for two rallies, one in Orangeburg (about fifty miles outside of the capital) and one in Columbia.

However, neither of these rallies were publicized well. Despite being in South Carolina, I only heard of the rallies as they happened when they suddenly showed up on Sanders’ events map.

One precinct at a Parks & Recreation department in Columbia, around noon. Polls were open from 7 am to 7 pm.

Normally, Sanders’ rallies are announced at least twenty four hours in advance – his campaign announced his Thursday night Chicago rally on Wednesday morning – but there was no sign of either of these events on his web page until the day they occurred.

On top of that, Sanders left South Carolina before the polls even opened. He headed to Texas for a rally on the day of the South Carolina primary.

Despite my inability to attend either of his events due to late notice, I was determined to find someone to talk to. I visited his campaign headquarters in Columbia about an hour after a canvass launch, assuming the press would have already come and gone and that I would be more likely to be able to talk to volunteers. (I did this in Des Moines, Iowa, the day before the caucus, and was welcomed by the volunteers there.)

However, when I arrived at the address listed as the Columbia headquarters on Sanders’ website, I found it to be a rented living room of a home – the windows plastered in Bernie signs. I could see volunteers in tee shirts sitting and tables and talking eagerly through the window. I went to open the door and…

Bernie Door
The locked front door to Sanders’ campaign HQ in Columbia, South Carolina.

It was locked. Under a “Bernie 2016” bumper sticker was a knocking-handle, and I hit it a few times while my partner knocked on the door with his fist.

A woman in a volunteer shirt cracked open the door and slipped out, not allowing us to see inside. She told us that none of the volunteers wanted to be photographed or quoted, and took our phone numbers in case they decided to hold a primary watch party that evening. We never received a call.

The only person of interest I talked to in South Carolina was a voter at a primary site who was voting for Sanders, but with the extreme lack of Democrats in a state in the Deep South… it took us a while to find anyone to talk to.

By chance, my colleague stumbled upon a watch party that evening on a “South Carolina for Sanders” Facebook page. It ended up being the official watch party – Symone Sanders, (“No relation,” she joked in an interview in Iowa) the national press secretary for the Sanders’ campaign, spoke. But it wasn’t announced on the official website at all, even though it was sponsored by the campaign.

But, unlike in Iowa, where I was able to interview her at the campaign headquarters, Symone Sanders wasn’t accessible. She wasn’t at the campaign headquarters when we visited and my colleague who attended the primary watch party didn’t speak to her.

Many volunteers traveled to South Carolina to canvass, and many of the staffers there – like the national press secretary – were flown in for the week or two leading up to the primary. They weren’t familiar with the area or the people.

I don’t know if the poor organization of Sanders’ campaign was the main reason for Clinton’s smashing victory in South Carolina. But I can tell you, from what I saw, I wasn’t surprised at all with Saturday evening’s results.

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Featured photo courtesy of AFGE. (The two story photos courtesy of Colopy.)

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