By JESSICA COLOPY & NICHOLAUS GARCIA
Columbia S.C. – Beverly King was one of the few who cast her vote for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in South Carolina’s Democratic Primary Feb. 27.
King, who cast her ballot at Hand Middle School, said she’s supported Sanders since before his campaign officially began last May. “I actually have a selfie with him before he started running for office. I feel really proud of it.”
Across town, J.W. Cleveland, 80, was casting her vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “I don’t know [Sanders]. So I’m not trying to learn somebody right at the gate,” Cleveland said. “If I don’t know you before you get to the entrance, I don’t know you.”
With little familiarity in The Palmetto State — the fourth state so far this election cycle choosing its presidential nominee — Sanders could not overcome the support Clinton built over the years, only receiving 26 percent of the votes to Clinton’s roughly 74 percent.
This was the first Southern state to vote this primary season, and with more black voters expected to go to the polls than whites, this was a test of Sanders’ reach, political experts noted.
Just days before South Carolina’s Democratic Primary, Sanders appeared at a rally in Chicago alongside Jonathan Jackson, son of former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson.
“I stay away from [introducing politicians] like a plague,” Jackson said at the Feb. 25 rally at Chicago State University. “But I’m not going to introduce to you a politician. I’m going to introduce to you a true American statesman.”
Despite such endorsements, Sanders did not close the gap in South Carolina, and his schedule that weekend indicated he was already looking ahead to Super Tuesday March 1.
Sanders held rallies in Columbia and Orangeburg S.C. on Friday, both announced only hours before they occurred. But on primary day, Sanders headed to Texas to hold a rally while Clinton stayed in South Carolina for a post-primary speech in downtown Columbia.
Several blocks away, Brent Zeller of San Rafael, California, was among 50 or so people watching returns coming in late Saturday at Sanders’ official watch party at Pearlz Oyster Bar.
Zeller, 61, said he had given up on the political process before Sanders brought him back in.
Zeller actually put his pro tennis teaching career on hold for three months to volunteer for Sanders in South Carolina.
“I sublet my apartment and just started messaging people on Facebook looking for places to stay,” said
Zeller, who pinned Saturday’s disappointing results on a campaign staff unfamiliar with South Carolina. “He needs more of a local presence when it comes to rural areas in Southern states” he said.
Sanders’ campaign headquarters was set up in the small front room of a Columbia house. Upon knocking, reporters were told that none of the volunteers wanted to be on camera. The only available volunteer was unsure if they would be hosting their own primary watch party in the evening.
David Woodard, a political science professor at South Carolina’s Clemson University, predicts Sanders’ momentum from earlier primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire will fall flat after Super Tuesday.
Clinton, meanwhile, is “sailing on her own” after this weekend, Woodward said.
Sanders will have a chance to rally his campaign on Super Tuesday as 11 crucial states, including Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, go to the polls. Illinois’ primary is right around the corner on March 15, giving Sanders another opportunity to improve his reach with minority voters.
Back at Pearlz Oyster Bar’s watch party, Symone Sanders, the national press secretary for the Sanders campaign, expressed optimism moving forward, saying “The political revolution is alive and well.”