5 things to know ahead of South Carolina Democratic primary

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. © Jim Young
The Democratic primary on Saturday in South Carolina is about more than just one state. Here are five things to know ahead of the fourth primary contest between Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Who can vote in the South Carolina primary?

South Carolina has an open primary, meaning you do not have to be a registered Democrat to vote in the election. Republicans who voted in the GOP primary can't also vote in the Democratic one. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST.

What can the 2008 South Carolina Democratic primary tell us about 2016?

Eight years ago, then-Senator Barack Obama challenged the establishment-pick, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, and he won big, with help from 78 percent of the black voters that day compared to Clinton’s 19 percent. Overall, Obama got more than double Clinton’s vote count, 55.4 percent to 26.5 percent.

That doesn’t, by any means, give Sanders the upper hand in 2016. Clinton’s placement as Secretary of State in President Obama’s cabinet helped keep the Clinton family a household name in South Carolina, and with Obama all but endorsing her in many positive public comments, Clinton is expected to pick up most of what she previously lost.

What impact will the South Carolina primary have on the Democratic nomination?

Real Clear Politics combined 10 different polls conducted between February 10 and 25 to reach an average of 58.3 percent for Clinton and 31.7 for Sanders.

Even though Sanders lags in the polls, both candidates stand a chance to walk out of South Carolina with some delegates who will eventually decide the party nomination.

53 delegates and six superdelegates at stake in South Carolina. Superdelegates are Democratic Party officials who are not bound by the voting results of the primary. To win the nomination, the candidate must win at least 2,383 of the 4,189 available delegates or superdelegates.

So far, Clinton has 505 to Sanders's 71. Clinton’s 451 superdelegates make up nearly 90 percent of her total, and Sanders has 19, just a little over a quarter of his total.

How important is the black vote in South Carolina?

Blacks make up about 55 percent of the state Democratic Party’s registration. Their vote basically means everything. And both Sanders and Clinton are treating the demographic accordingly.

On February 16, Clinton announced a $125 billion plan to end systemic racism and provide more economic opportunities to low-income minority communities. The announcement was made in Harlem, New York, but the timeliness suggests her target audience was just as much the people of South Carolina.

“I am a proud defender of President Obama,” Clinton told a crowd at South Carolina State University recently, News & Observer reported. Clinton has always played up the accomplishments of her former boss, but it’s a talking point for her in the Palmetto State.

Sanders made clear early on that he saw South Carolina as a tough challenge.

In an interview with RT, Sanders surrogate Nina Turner said: “The African-American vote has to be earned.”

“Senator Sanders is absolutely not taking anyone's vote for granted of any ethnicity," Turner added, noting his lack of name recognition as well as the fact that Sanders has focused on his own constituency for decades, which in Vermont is 95 percent white.

Sanders failed to garner enthusiasm from a crowd of 800 at the mostly black Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, despite being introduced by former NAACP president Ben Jealous.

“We have, in America today, a broken criminal justice system,” Sanders opened his speech in a condemning tone, which clearly did not match the mood of the room much less the tone of Jealous, though that didn’t prevent the campaign from posting the video on its YouTube channel.

What’s next?

Following a near-tie in Iowa where neither Clinton nor Sanders came out above 50 percent, a smashing success in New Hampshire for Sanders who won 60 percent of the vote, and a Clinton victory in Nevada, scoring 52.6 percent of the vote to Sanders’s 47.3 percent, South Carolina will be the final early state. The winner will take his or her momentum to 11 states voting on March 1, Super Tuesday.

The South Carolina campaign of each candidate may especially influence other states with sizable black populations like Alabama, Georgia, and Virginia. The other eight states voting on Super Tuesday are Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Sanders’s home state of Vermont.