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Why African-American voters hold key for Democrats in South Carolina

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WASHINGTON — As the Democratic presidential nomination race turns to South Carolina, African-American voters will take center stage for the first time.

Both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have sought to woo the influential voting bloc ahead of Saturday’s Palmetto State primary, and with good reason.

South Carolina’s African-American population is 27.8%, according to Census Bureau statistics, a vast increase from the previous nominating states: Nevada’s African-American population is only 9.1%, followed by Iowa at 3.4% and New Hampshire at 1.5%.

Nationally, the number is about 13%.

“Who can do well between Clinton and Sanders among African-Americans will win South Carolina,” said Gibbs Knotts, chair of the College of Charleston political science department.

In a recent CNN/ORC South Carolina poll of African-American voters, Clinton tallied 65% support compared to 28% for Sanders.

An overwhelming majority of African-American voters in South Carolina are Democrats, Knotts said, a fact that bore itself out in exit polls from last week’s GOP primary. Just 1% of Republican voters were African-American, according to the polls.

“We used to have white moderates that would get biracial coalitions of whites and blacks supporting them. Those days have really changed,” Knotts said.

However, minority candidates have had success in the South Carolina Republican party in recent years.

“This is a state where the two most popular politicians right now are an African-American senator in Tim Scott and an Indian-American female governor in Nikki Haley,” Knotts said. “Though two minorities are leading the Republican Party, they draw almost all their support from whites.”