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Clinton Returns to South Carolina, Site of Humbling '08 Loss

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, May 22, 2015.

The last time Hillary Rodman Clinton was in South Carolina, it was 2008 and she was on her way to losing the state's presidential primary to then-Sen. Barack Obama by close to 30 points.

She'll be back on Wednesday, again to campaign for president. She is again favored to win the Democratic nomination, but even more so this time, with no formidable challenger on the horizon.

Back in 2008, Clinton had a wide lead over the Democratic field in early opinion polls in South Carolina, which disappeared amid the rise of Obama, who would become the first African-American president.

“There was a lot of pent-up emotion involved in that vote,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, the only Democrat in South Carolina's congressional delegation. “Mrs. Clinton stands well with the black community. She always has.”

Clyburn is among those in South Carolina who argue that little can be learned from Clinton's 2008 loss in South Carolina, other than a reminder she had the misfortune to run against a candidate who would make history.

Instead, they see the 2016 primary in South Carolina, where non-white voters make up one of the largest shares of any state's Democratic primary electorate, as the first chance she'll have to prove she can reassemble the “Obama coalition,” which leaned heavily on minority voters to post general election wins in states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia.

“She's a tough woman (and) has what it takes,” said longtime party activist Edith Childs, an Obama supporter in 2008 who gained some political renown for coining the president's signature campaign cry, “Fired Up! Ready to go.”

“Look, it wasn't a matter of choosing him `over' her,” said Childs, who will be in the crowd on Wednesday in Columbia when Clinton speaks to a gathering of state Democratic women, including legislators. “In my mind, I felt there was a need for some changes, and I wanted to see in my lifetime a black president. It's just that simple.”

US presidential candidates, as of May 27, 2015.
US presidential candidates, as of May 27, 2015.

South Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison said the shift of many black voters in the state didn't happen until Obama won in overwhelmingly white Iowa. “It was like, ‘Oh, he can win! Now I'll vote for him,”’ Harrison said.

Obama beat Clinton 55.4 percent to 26.5 percent in the primary, and while exit polls suggest the vote was not exclusively along racial lines, many of Obama's largest margins came in counties with the highest proportion of black residents.

Clinton aides don't talk openly about the racial politics of South Carolina, but her moves in the state suggest they understand them. Her itinerary includes a private meeting with minority businesswomen and an address to the House Democratic Women's Caucus, which is overwhelmingly black.

An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in April found Hillary Clinton with 72 percent favorability rating among black adults, compared to 13 percent who viewed her unfavorably. That 59-point split in her favor compares to a 14-point favorability deficit among adult whites.