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By John Whitesides and Amanda Becker
COLUMBIA, S.C., Feb 27 (Reuters) - U.S. Democratic
presidential candidate Hillary Clinton crushed rival Bernie
Sanders at the South Carolina primary on Saturday, propelling
her into next week's crucial "Super Tuesday" voting in 11 states
on a wave of momentum.
The rout of Sanders solidified Clinton's status as the
strong front-runner to capture the party's nomination for the
Nov. 8 election in her quest to become America's first woman
With nearly half of the votes counted in South Carolina,
Clinton led Sanders by a 50-point margin, dramatically reversing
her 28-point loss in the state to President Barack Obama during
their bitter 2008 primary battle.
The former secretary of state's victory decisively
established her strength among black voters, a crucial
Democratic constituency who make up more than half of the
party's primary electorate in South Carolina.
After the win, Clinton appeared to be looking ahead to a
general-election matchup with Republican front-runner Donald
Trump, the billionaire whose campaign slogan is "Make America
Great Again" and has called for building a wall on the border
"Despite what you hear, we don't need to make America great
again, America has never stopped being great," she told cheering
supporters in Columbia after the win. "Instead of building
walls, we need to be tearing down barriers."
The result was Clinton's third victory in the first four
Democratic contests, and raised more questions about whether
Sanders, the democratic socialist U.S. senator from Vermont,
will be able to expand his support beyond his base of
predominantly white liberals.
"Today you sent a message," Clinton said. "In America, when
we stand together, there is no barrier too big to break."
Sanders admitted defeat early in the night.
"Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just
beginning. We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire. She won a
decisive victory in South Carolina. Now it's on to Super
Tuesday," Sanders said in a statement.
The Democratic race now becomes a broader national contest.
Eleven states, including six in the South with large minority
populations where polls show Clinton with big leads, will vote
on Super Tuesday and four more over the next weekend.
"Tomorrow, this campaign goes national," Clinton said.
Clinton's camp was hoping a big win in South Carolina, after
more narrow victories in Iowa and Nevada and Sanders' clear win
in New Hampshire, will set her up for a big night on Tuesday,
when about 875 delegates will be up for grabs, more than
one-third of those needed to win the nomination.
Sanders, who has energized the party's liberal wing and
brought young people to the polls with his message of attacking
income equality and reining in Wall Street, needs a breakthrough
win in a key state in the next few weeks to keep his hopes
"The door is closing fast for Bernie Sanders," unaligned
Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis said. "Movement candidates
are about momentum and excitement, and losses sap that momentum.
That's his problem right now."
Recognizing his steep odds in South Carolina, Sanders had
spent most of the past week in states that will vote in March.
As the results rolled in on Saturday, he was scheduled to hold a
rally in the "Super Tuesday" state of Minnesota.
(Additional reporting by Alana Wise in Washington; Editing by
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