Clinton touts Obama in South Carolina, but promises to do more for blacks

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Story highlights

  • Poll shows Hillary Clinton has a huge lead among black Democrats in South Carolina
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders trying to put a dent into that dominance

Orangeburg, South Carolina (CNN)Hillary Clinton had a case to make to black voters in South Carolina this weekend: President Barack Obama brought the country back from the brink of economic depression but I want to make sure everyone gets a piece of the recovery.

Clinton, who headlined a Democratic forum on Friday night and two events on Saturday in the Palmetto State, laid out a plan that would "build on the progress" the President has made but offer broader growth, especially for African-American families.
Clinton opened a town hall before a primarily black audience here in Orangeburg with her oft-used line on Obama: The president, she said, "doesn't get the credit he deserves for digging us out of that deep hole" and avoiding a depression when he took office in 2008.
    The audience loved it.
    But for the next hour, while peppered with questions from prospective voters, Clinton outlined the way she would go further than the president on the economy and growth for African-Americans.
    "We have to get more good jobs," Clinton said. "And we do need, in my opinion, a targeted effort at people and communities that have not had the benefits of the recovery thus far."
    Clinton endorsed the idea of ensuring that black businesses are sought out for contracts by the federal government and given preference for loans by the Small Business Authority.
    "There are opportunities that we are not seizing on behalf of communities and individuals and I don't think there is any doubt that we have to do more to open doors," Clinton said.
    Clinton brought a similar message to the MSNBC's "First in the South Democratic Candidates Forum" on Friday night.
    "I want to go further [than Obama]," Clinton said, "because I think that his principle challenge was saving us from the terrible financial crisis he inherited."

    Clinton campaign follows game plan

    There is a reason Clinton is making this pitch in South Carolina: African-Americans made up 56% of the Democratic primary electorate in 2008 and any candidate seeking to win the state in 2016 will have to win the black vote.
    Clinton is trying to tie herself to Obama in this state -- where the president remains extremely popular -- but, as she regularly says, is noting that she will not be his third term.
    "The base voters in our state in the Democratic Presidential primary are African-Americans," Clay Middleton, Clinton's South Carolina state director, said in an interview with CNN. "In order to win the nomination, we need to make sure that all African-Americans come out and vote."
    So to do that, the state operation has, in their words, made sure that every event they do has African-American outreach integrated into it.
    So far, Clinton has succeeded at doing this in South Carolina: A Winthrop University poll released earlier this month found that 80% of African-American Democrats support Clinton, compared to 8% for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's stoutest Democratic opponent.
    And more than any other early nominating state, South Carolina is comfortably in Clinton's column, largely because of black supporters.
    "If the elections were held today, just among the African-American vote, we would lose," Sanders told NPR earlier this month.

    Sanders faces a tall challenge

    Sanders' team has tried to combat this on the ground in South Carolina. On Saturday in Columbia, Sanders rolled out 20 endorsements from state leaders, including African-Americans such as Rep. Terry Alexander of Florence, Sumter County Council member Eugene R. Baten and Omari Fox, a Black Lives Matter leader.
    At the Democratic forum on Friday, Sanders also made the case that it is still early and his views are largely unknown to black voters.
    "I think I have the economic and social justice agenda now," Sanders said, "that once we get the word out, will, in fact, resonate with the African-American community."
    Sanders' campaign is trying to close the gap. To date, Sanders has 34 hired staff on the ground in South Carolina and has four operating offices, according to Symone Sanders, Sanders' spokeswoman, who added that they are opening two more before the end of December.
    But the gap the Vermont senator faces is real and Andrew Springer, Sanders' now-former South Carolina communications director, recently left the campaign to pursue journalism in West Virginia, his home state.
    Clinton's South Carolina operation brags that it has contacted more than 142,000 unique voters since workers got on the ground in April and held 1,100 grassroots organizing events across the state.
    "Our goal," Middleton said, "is to organize in all 46 counties and be very strategic in who we target."