Clinton Returns to South Carolina, Site of Humbling 2008 Loss
ATLANTA (AP) -- The last time Hillary Rodman Clinton was in South Carolina, it was 2008 and she was on her way to losing the state's presidential primary to then-Sen. Barack Obama by close to 30 points.
She'll be back on Wednesday, again to campaign for president. This time around, several of the state's African-American leaders predict, she'll find a far different reception.
"There was a lot of pent-up emotion involved in that vote," said Rep. Jim Clyburn, the only Democrat in South Carolina's congressional delegation. "Mrs. Clinton stands well with the black community. She always has."
Clyburn is among those in South Carolina who argue that little can be learned from Clinton's 2008 loss in South Carolina, other than a reminder she had the misfortune to run against a candidate who would become the nation's first black president.
Instead, they see the 2016 primary in South Carolina, where non-white voters make up one of the largest shares of any state's Democratic primary electorate, as the first chance she'll have to prove she can reassemble the "Obama coalition," which leaned heavily on minority voters to post general election wins in states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia.
"She's a tough woman (and) has what it takes," said longtime party activist Edith Childs, an Obama supporter in 2008 who gained some political renown for coining the president's signature campaign cry, "Fired Up! Ready to go!"
"Look, it wasn't a matter of choosing him 'over' her," said Childs, who will be in the crowd on Wednesday in Columbia when Clinton speaks to a gathering of state Democratic women, including legislators. "In my mind, I felt there was a need for some changes, and I wanted to see in my lifetime a black president. It's just that simple."
Clinton had a wide lead over the Democratic field in early opinion polls in South Carolina, which disappeared amid Obama's rise. South Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison said the shift of many black voters in the state didn't happen until Obama won in overwhelmingly white Iowa. "It was like, 'Oh, he can win! Now I'll vote for him,'" Harrison said.
Obama beat Clinton 55.4 percent to 26.5 percent in the primary, and while exit polls suggest the vote was not exclusively along racial lines, many of Obama's largest margins came in counties with the highest proportion of black residents. He lost just two counties: Oconee County, where blacks account for less than 8 percent of the population, and Horry County, a coastal resort county that is 13 percent black.
Clinton aides don't talk openly about the racial politics of South Carolina, but her moves in the state suggest they understand them. Her itinerary includes a private meeting with minority businesswomen and an address to the House Democratic Women's Caucus, which is overwhelmingly black.
Her state campaign chief is Clay Middleton, a young black political operative who worked for the Obama campaign. Ready for Hillary, the group that drummed up support for Clinton for the launch of her official campaign, tapped Bakari Sellers, a 30-year-old African American and Democratic up-and-comer, as a national co-chairman of its "Millennial Council." He lost his bid for lieutenant governor last fall, but remains a popular figure in state Democratic circles.
African-American hosts also figure prominently in the series of campaign house parties that began in the days before her visit, and her network includes black pastors who once campaigned for her husband, Bill Clinton, who like his wife, remains overwhelmingly popular in the nation's African-American community.
An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in April found Hillary Clinton with 72 percent favorability rating among black adults, compared to 13 percent who viewed her unfavorably. That 59-point split in her favor compares to a 14-point favorability deficit among adult whites.
Childs, the Obama-turned-Clinton activist, said the black support for Clinton will hold this time, as long as she "works hard and talks about the issues we care about, what people need and want on the ground."
Associated Press News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington.