Diane talks with The New Yorker's Susan Glasser.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Hillary Clinton won her first resounding victory of the 2016 campaign on Saturday. She defeated Senator Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina primary, with 73.5 percent of the vote. She drew overwhelming support from African-American voters. Guest host Susan Page talks with NPR’s Ron Elving about what the results could mean as we head into the Super Tuesday primaries.
- Ron Elving Senior Washington editor, NPR News
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She has the flu. Hillary Clinton won her first resounding victory of the 2016 campaign on Saturday. She defeated Senator Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina primary by nearly three to one. She drew overwhelming support from African American votes. With me in the studio to talk about what the results could mean as we head into Super Tuesday, Ron Elving.
MS. SUSAN PAGEHe's the senior Washington editor for NPR News. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. RON ELVINGDelighted to be with you, Susan.
PAGEThis was a bigger victory than I think any of us expected. How did she do it?
ELVINGShe did it, essentially, by solidifying her base among African American voters, older voters, people who knew the Clinton name, people who also remembered 2008 and either voted for her in 2008 or voted for Barack Obama. And that was, perhaps, the secret sauce in all this. She totally immersed herself in the Barack Obama legacy and made herself the keeper of that legacy and the inheritor.
PAGEYou know it's interesting, the South Carolina primary in 2008 was pivot point for Hillary Clinton in a negative way. It's where Barack Obama started to pull ahead. She never then caught up, although she won some primaries after that point and stayed in the race until June. This time, it could be a pivot point in the other direction. Do you think it is?
ELVINGIt could be and we'll see tomorrow when we get to Super Tuesday and we see whether or not the particular dynamic that she put together in South Carolina can be replicated across the south. There is every reason to think it will be, at least in those states where African Americans are as important as they are in South Carolina. Now, in South Carolina, they're something like 55 or 60 percent of the vote, maybe even a little better than that.
ELVINGI think they were a little better than that this weekend. So if she has the kind of dominating performance she did among African Americans, particularly older African Americans, she will sweep those states in the south and she will have a dominating performance on Super Tuesday. You know, the interesting thing is that back in 2008, this was an opportunity for Barack Obama to show -- having shown he could win white voters in Iowa, that he could take the black vote away from the Clintons.
ELVINGAnd once he had done that, he really had a scenario to go all the way to the nomination. Bernie Sanders was hoping to do not quite that, but something similar to show that his coalition that he's been trying to build could also go onto the nomination.
PAGEYou know, Bernie Sanders has done a remarkable job in getting the votes of younger voters, of voters under 30. Has he succeeded in that kind of generational divide when it comes to African Americans?
ELVINGHe has in the sense of differentiating between the younger African Americans and their parents. Now, we saw people over 65 who were black voters in South Carolina -- this is such a stunning statistic, you just have to sort of stop and sit down. 96 percent of them voted for Hillary Clinton, those over 65. Now, it was quite a different story under 30. There, Hillary Clinton was able to win, but only barely and the African American vote was much friendlier to Bernie Sanders among younger voters.
ELVINGAs we've seen, of course, he owns that vote among white voters. He really owns the 30 and under vote where he gets over 80 percent.
PAGEBut when we go to Super Tuesday tomorrow, you look at states like Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia, all states that have primaries and have larger than average proportion of African American voters.
ELVINGThat’s right. And in the Democratic party, in particular, they really do dominate the electorate so we would expect to see that in Georgia. We would expect to see that in Alabama. Arkansas is not -- does not have quite as many black voters, but, of course, then there's something else, which is that they do remember Hillary Clinton as their first lady when Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas.
PAGESo Bernie Sanders, eager to put South Carolina in his rearview mirror looking ahead to Super Tuesday. Where does he hope to do well tomorrow?
ELVINGHe's concentrating on the states that are a little bit further north and west, Colorado, Minnesota, of course, Vermont, but he has overwhelming support in his home state of Vermont. And then, perhaps the most important state to watch on Super Tuesday on the Democratic side and that would be Massachusetts. Deep dyed blue dates, home of the Kennedys. Everybody remembers when Ted Kennedy threw his support to Barack Obama in 2008 and what a pivot that was for that campaign.
ELVINGTrue fulcrum for that campaign. This time around in Massachusetts, not so clear. It's a mixed picture there. They certainly do know Bernie Sanders better than most people better than most people in the country because he is a New Englander. But at the same time, she has shown a fair amount of strength there, too, and there is an African American vote of some significance in Massachusetts.
ELVINGThey've had an African American governor there, Deval Patrick, and so that win is kind of a jump ball and one to really watch and perhaps the truest test of the two candidates' momentum coming out of Super Tuesday.
PAGEYou know, Suffolk University had a new poll out last night of Massachusetts Democrats that showed Hillary Clinton up eight points. Now, it's just one polls. Polls are snapshots. That's just barely within the margin of error of that poll, but it is a sign that if Hillary Clinton manages to win Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, say he does well in the two caucus states, in Colorado and Minnesota where he's doing a lot of effort, what does that say about his candidacy and does it put him on the path to get enough delegates because that's what this battle is really about, getting convention delegates?
ELVINGYes, that's right. And let's remember the Democrats are pretty religious about doing proportionality. It is possible to get an overwhelming share of the delegates in a particular state if you win in every congressional district, if you win in a caucus state, there are ways that you can exaggerate, if you will, your delegate haul. But there is really only one scenario by which Bernie Sanders can have a successful day on Super Tuesday, in all likelihood, given the polls and that would be by dominating in these caucus states where a smaller group of really committed people -- and Bernie Sanders people are committed.
ELVINGThese are people who really believe in him, believe in his message and for a variety of reasons have serious doubts about Hillary Clinton, aren't sure they can support Hillary Clinton as the nominee. Now, that's not everybody in Bernie Sanders camp, but some of his most committed supporters are quite clearly motivated not only by the message and the man, but also by some aversion to Hillary. So if he can turn those people out in Colorado, Minnesota, he can still get to something like parity.
ELVINGThis is the best scenario for him. He could get to something like parity in the split of about 880 delegates coming out of Super Tuesday. There's another scenario, of course, where he gets not wiped out, but where she builds up a rather impressive, if not insurmountable delegate lead on Super Tuesday.
PAGEAnd, you know, Saturday night in her victory speech in South Carolina, she was talking not about Bernie Sanders. She was talking about Donald Trump. She was already trying to look ahead. Now, of course, that doesn't mean they're necessarily guaranteed of defeating Bernie Sanders, but it tells you something about where they think their battle is going to be. One piece of good news for Bernie Sanders today, he expects to raise $40 million in the month of February. That is a stunning haul.
ELVINGThis is the place where he has managed to replicate the Obama magic of 2008. He has managed to tap into people all over the country who are not big political donors, many of whom have never given a dollar to a politician before and may never again. But they agreed to keep giving money to Bernie Sanders, some of these are repeat givers, and he keeps winning new friends and they send him donations in relatively small amounts, as he likes to day. The average is in the 20s. It's like $27.
ELVINGWe've heard that from Bernie often. It may even be coming down, for all we know. But the point is that he keeps getting more and more of them and that creates a movement to some degree and certainly, there's nothing that binds a voter to you more than having that voter give you money.
PAGELet's talk a little about the Republicans. They also a lot of Super Tuesday contest coming up tomorrow. This weekend, we heard the kind of playground taunts between Marco Rubio and Donald Trump that I have never heard between major contenders in a presidential candidate -- in a presidential campaign. What did you make of that?
ELVINGThis has become a rather desperate fight, both for the individual candidates who are still in the running and also for the Republican party writ large. You had, on the same day, this weekend, you had Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, whose state is voting tomorrow, you had him come out for Donald Trump. I believe he was the first senator to come and say...
PAGEFirst sitting senator.
ELVING...I'm going to vote for Donald Trump and I'm for him in my state's primary. I think that's a big boost for Trump in Alabama. Jeff Sessions is a very popular senator there. But on the same day, you had freshman Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska who many people see as a kind of hope for the future of a certain kind, at least, in the Republican party, non-ideological, extraordinary person, former university president and someone who really could have a remarkable future in American politics, Ben Sasse, and he said, I can't vote for Donald Trump in a primary.
ELVINGI can't vote for Donald Trump in November. Now, there you have your contrasts. Two senators, one saying, hey, Trump's my man, the other one saying, we can't possibly have Trump. And in the meantime, you have, as you said, these schoolyard taunts, this he should sue whoever did that to his face, I've never heard that kind of talk from presidential candidates before, either.
PAGEHere's an email from John. He writes, "is it true black participation in South Carolina was significantly down from '08? So even though the Clinton win was big, the number of votes was smaller and does this indicate a lack of enthusiasm among South Carolina black Democratic voters?"
ELVINGYou could read it that way if the other numbers were any different, if the overwhelming numbers of black voters preferring Hillary Clinton were not quite so impressive. But let us say that as has been the pattern through all the early voting states, all the February states, the Democratic turnout was down from 2008 and the Republican turnout was up. Not always as dramatically as in every other state, but it's been up in every state and quite substantially in certain cases.
ELVINGCertainly, Nevada was a huge increase. So for Hillary Clinton to only be able to draw out about a third of a million voters whereas we had over a half a million in 2008, does show, I believe, some lack of enthusiasm relative to Barack Obama in 2008. But that's a high bar for comparison.
PAGESo big challenges for each party. For Hillary Clinton getting some more enthusiasm behind her candidacy, for the Republicans holding themselves together in this battle that's becoming more divisive. Ron Elving, thanks for joining us to talk about this this morning.
ELVINGGood to be with you, Susan.
PAGERon Elving, he's the senior Washington editor for NPR News. We're gonna take a short break and when we come back, we're gonna talk about elections of a different sort, the elections in Iran. We hope you'll call us. We'd like your comments and questions about the Iranian elections. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
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