- S.C. provides Clinton her strongest win yet of the 2016 campaign
- Sanders: 'Now it's on to Super Tuesday'
(CNN)Hillary Clinton finally got her landslide -- and it could redefine the Democratic race for the White House.
Her crushing defeat of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina primary Saturday restored Clinton as the undisputed front-runner, as her southern firewall of minority voters held rock solid and her opponent fared poorly among African-American voters.
The former secretary of state, after a narrow win in Iowa, a major loss in New Hampshire and a five-point victory in Nevada, has now captured three of the first four Democratic nominating contests. She's now primed for Super Tuesday, an 11-state Democratic matchup that includes a sweep of Clinton-friendly country in the Deep South.
"Tomorrow, this campaign goes national," Clinton said, in a speech dominated by her new campaign mantra of breaking down racial, gender and economic barriers, which has been distilled from the experience of tough months on the campaign trail and the stronger-than-expected populist challenge from Sanders.
With 99% of votes counted, Clinton led by a huge margin, 73.5% to 26%, and was ahead by a staggering 174,000 votes.
Clinton's victory raised serious questions for Sanders, who sent shockwaves through her campaign with a 22-point victory in the New Hampshire primary earlier this month, but has so far failed to build on that triumph to prove he can connect with the Democratic Party's crucial bloc of minority voters.
Her triumph was fueled by a massive advantage among African-American voters who overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama in an ugly primary eight years ago. This time around Clinton won more than 80% of South Carolina's African-American voters. Obama managed 78% from the same community in 2008, though that was in a three-way race that included John Edwards.
Saturday's win also represented a moment of personal redemption for Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who spent years painstakingly repairing ties with the African-American community in the Palmetto State after 2008.
This time around, Clinton clutched Obama close, billing herself as a former key member of his Cabinet, as the best possible protector of the President's legacy and making strong appeals to African-American voters as she promised to tear down barriers. Her victory speech was replete with racial themes, as she bemoaned violence against black youths and slammed authorities in Michigan over the Flint toxic water scandal.
"We also have to face the reality of systemic racism that more than 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," Clinton said.
Clinton mentioned the five mothers by name that she recognized at CNN's Democratic town hall on Tuesday -- five African-American women who have lost their children to senseless gun violence or at the hands of police.
"They have not been broken or embittered, instead they have channeled their sorrow into strategy, and their mourning into a movement. And they are reminding us of something deep and powerful in the American spirit," Clinton said.
She also slammed Republican front-runner Donald Trump, offering a message of compassion to counter the anger whipped up by the billionaire.
"Despite what you hear, we don't need to make America great again. America has never stopped being great," Clinton said, referring to Trump's slogan. "But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers."
Saturday's results appear to validate the Clinton campaign's argument that although Sanders could compete in some early states, he would be unable to match Clinton in less white, more diverse states in the South and the West.
But Sanders, who was appearing in Minnesota Saturday, was defiant. He issued a statement congratulating Clinton -- but warning that his "grass roots political revolution" had only just begun.
"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."
As he arrived in Rochester, Minnesota, he said "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
"Tonight we lost. I congratulate Secretary Clinton on her very strong victory. Tuesday, over 800 delegates are at stake and we intend to win many, many of them."
He largely avoided mention of Clinton's commanding victory during his Minnesota rally, focusing mostly on Republicans. He did, however, take a swipe at Clinton for benefitting from a super PAC and refusing -- so far -- to release transcripts of paid speeches she delivered to Wall Street firms.
Sanders noted Democrats in 11 states will pick 10 times more pledged delegates on Super Tuesday than have already been awarded.
Vice President Joe Biden, who would have banked on South Carolina had he decided to seek the White House, congratulated Clinton for her "great victory today."
Speaking in California at the state's Democratic convention in San Jose, Biden went on to say he was "proud of both of them" and said the party had "two great candidates."
Sanders spent less time in the state than Clinton, but made a late run there on Friday, taking aim at her positions on trade and relationship with Wall Street. He also highlighted his opposition to the death penalty, saying its use had been responsible for the taking of innocent lives, including those of people of color.
"We have so much ugliness and so much violence that I don't think the government should be involved in that violence and killing people," Sanders said.