Black voters lift Clinton to staggering SC win

Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonVoters won't get a refund on Election 2016 choice HHS chief: EpiPen cost surge could have been avoided Arizona Republic gets death threats after endorsing Clinton MORE crushed Bernie SandersBernie SandersVulnerable NH Republican ties reelection bid to Trump Overnight Finance: Congress poised to avoid shutdown | Yellen defends Fed from Trump | Why Obama needs PhRMA on trade Trump mocks Clinton for stumbling while sick with pneumonia MORE among black voters in the South Carolina primary — a result that doesn’t bode well for the Vermont senator’s performance in the Southern Super Tuesday states.

The former secretary of State claimed a stunning 87 percent of African-American Democratic voters in South Carolina, according to MSNBC’s analysis of exit polls. 

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Clinton also led Sanders by 6 percentage points among white voters, according to the same analysis. But with an estimated six in 10 South Carolina Democratic voters identified as African-American, Sanders was trounced by that demographic group alone. 

Even more striking was Clinton’s margin of victory among older black voters. She beat Sanders by 93 percentage points among African-Americans older than 65. By comparison, in 2008, then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaRyan: Recession 'around the corner' without tax reform First lady slams Trump's 'birther' comments Obama's contradictory stance toward black asylum seekers MORE (D-Ill.) beat Clinton among black voters older than 60 by 50 points, according to MSNBC.

In her victory speech on Saturday night, Clinton directly addressed her black supporters. 

“We are going to give special support to our historically black colleges and universities that play a vital role in this state and across the country,” Clinton told the cheering crowd assembled at her campaign’s victory party. She then spoke about the deaths of young African-Americans in police confrontations and the lead poisoning of children in Flint, Mich.

“We also have to face the reality of systemic racism, that more than a half a century after Rosa Parks sat and Dr. King marched and John Lewis bled, still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind.”

Sanders’s comprehensive loss among black voters in South Carolina will deeply concern the Democratic socialist and his strategists.

Before Saturday’s result, the largest question looming over the Democratic race was whether Sanders could close the gap behind Clinton among African-American voters. This race gap was not an issue in the first two states — Iowa and New Hampshire — where the electorates are more than 90 percent white.

Sanders’s deficit among black voters, despite some high-profile endorsements, will only become more of a problem this week, particularly in Southern Super Tuesday states. 

On March 1, a number of states with large black electorates will vote.

Alabama and Georgia had Democratic electorates comprising 51 percent African-Americans in 2008, according to CNN's election center. MSNBC's analysts say that of the other Super Tuesday states, Virginia and Tennessee had Democratic African-American electorates of around 30 percent in 2008, and Texas and Arkansas were close to 20 percent black.

Sanders, who beat Clinton by a large margin in New Hampshire, pulled closer among young African-Americans in South Carolina, but Clinton still won among that group. Among black voters younger than 30 in South Carolina, Clinton beat Sanders by 13 points, according to MSNBC’s analysis of exit polls.

Clinton won South Carolina so overwhelmingly that the Sanders campaign released a statement conceding defeat only seven minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

“This campaign is only just beginning,” Sanders said in the statement. But his location at the time spoke volumes.

With Clinton preparing to give her victory speech, as the polls were closing in South Carolina, Sanders was in an airplane — without Internet access — on the way to Minnesota, spokeswoman Symone Sanders confirmed.

Minnesota is a less-diverse Super Tuesday state, where the Vermont senator has a better chance of defeating Clinton 

Heading into South Carolina, the Clinton campaign had amplified voters’ doubts about Sanders’s support for President Obama — a strategy designed to undermine his strategy among African-Americans. One of the more devastating attacks leveled by Clinton’s allies was reminding voters that Sanders had raised the idea of promoting a primary challenger to Obama leading into the 2012 election.

Former top Obama aide David Axelrod said Sanders should be worried about his failure to gain traction with African-American voters.

Appearing on CNN on Saturday night, Axelrod listened as the network ran down Obama's success across a string of Super Tuesday states with sizable black populations. That, Axelrod said, could prove a major stumbling block for Sanders, who is polling well behind Clinton with African-American voters.

“If I were the Sanders camp and I looked at these numbers, I would be concerned about Super Tuesday," said Axelrod, shortly before the polls closed. 

"If she has a good night tonight and it’s reflected in [the Southern states], she's going to start building in inexorable lead."

Ben Kamisar contributed reporting