Sanders’s assessment came in an interview with The Washington Post Tuesday afternoon as he waited to get off his chartered jet here and continue campaigning in a state that holds its Democratic primary on Saturday.
The Vermont senator said that Clinton benefits from deeper roots in South Carolina, including among African Americans, who are expected to make up more than half the Democratic electorate. But Sanders said he has the potential to do better with black voters elsewhere as he and his message continue to become better known nationally.
While Sanders is spending time in the Palmetto State this week, his campaign itinerary suggests he is looking well beyond Saturday to more favorable terrain, including some of the 11 states that hold Super Tuesday contests on March 1. On Wednesday alone, his plane will also touch down in Missouri, Oklahoma and Ohio.
Here are some excerpts from his conversation with The Washington Post about the state of the race following contests so far in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada:
On his prospects in the South Carolina primary
It is hard state for us, no if’s, but’s and maybe’s. … Hillary Clinton ran here in 2008. She has names of many tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who supported her. You start off with that, you have those votes in the bank, and you go on. You know what? I started off without one person voting for us. We have to earn every bloody vote, and that’s hard stuff. Hillary Clinton has very strong roots in the African American community. We have had to build those roots. I think we are making real progress. I think if you look at the polling, we are getting beaten in the African American community. Are we doing better? Yeah, we are, but we have a long way to go.
On whether there is potential for his support among African Americans to grow in states that follow
I think there is. I know the Clinton people were very nervous when there was an [entrance poll] in Nevada that we won the Latino vote. … We have made good progress in the Latino community, we are making good progress in the African American community, but I will not deny to you that we still have a way to go, and what we have got to do is a better job in getting our record out and talking about the issues, which are creating decent-paying jobs and reforming a broken criminal justice system, which has been very, very harsh on the African American community.
On the state of a race more broadly, in which he fought Clinton to a near-tie in the Iowa caucuses, won by 22 percentage points in the New Hampshire primary and lost by five points in the Nevada caucuses
There have been three races. One was a tie, I won one big, and I lost one by five points. That’s it. On Super Tuesday, we’re going to win some of them. How many? Who the hell knows? We’re going to win some of them, hopefully big, and we’re going to accumulate some delegates in others.The Clinton people are good spinners, and a lot of the media people fall for it. Yeah, I see that. ‘She got five more delegates [in Nevada] than you, Bernie. It’s the end of the world. Is it not?’ As I’ve said, it is not. It is a state-by-state-by-state, long-term process.
I’m not going to deny that we’re the underdog here, but I think we have a path to victory. If you look at a lot of the polls, the gaps in many, many states are shrinking. In some states, we’re now ahead. We always start off with the fact that she is known by virtually everybody. Many people don’t know me, they don’t know what I stand for. So I think we’re making progress, and I think we’re going to surprise people.
On whether the Clinton campaign’s attacks on him -- assertions that he is a “single-issue candidate” and his record is weak on gun control and immigration, among other issues -- are having an impact
The answer is I don’t know. But when this campaign began, as you recall, the Clinton campaign’s view was Bernie Sanders is a wonderful guy, a really nice guy, the conscience of the Congress. They were saying all these nice things because they weren’t worried about us. They didn’t take us seriously. Now that they take us seriously, I’m suddenly not such a nice guy, you know. I’m a terrible guy. It speaks to the fact that they know what we know: The support that we have is growing extraordinarily, and we are closing the gap with them and we have a shot to win. Their reaction is to go quite negative and to spin everything like crazy.
On why he has started to more aggressively draw contrasts with Clinton following his loss in Nevada
I guess the motivation for that is that I think it’s important if people are going to elect a president, they want to know what is the history, what is the record, not just what am I saying yesterday.Clinton over the last many months has adopted some of our positions. … I think it’s important for people to understand that. What is important is not necessarily what you say yesterday. It’s what you have said over the years.What I said in the very beginning is I hate negative campaigning, and I’m not going to run a negative campaign. Can we compare my record, should I compare my record with Clinton? Absolutely, and we will do that.
On whether he risks being seen as a “message candidate” if Clinton starts to build a lead in delegates
If she runs up a huge amount of delegates and we can’t win, that changes the dynamics. On the other hand, if we win a number of states -- what happens if we win Michigan? -- does that change the dynamic? So all I can tell you is we have come a long way … and I think the wind is at our back.