COLUMBIA, S.C. - Hillary Clinton resoundingly reclaimed her standing as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination with a lopsided victory over Bernie Sanders in South Carolina, giving her momentum heading into the Super Tuesday contests in multiple states.
For Sanders, the roughly 50-point defeat crystalized his weakness with black voters, a crucial segment of the Democratic electorate. If he loses blacks by similar margins in the Southern states that vote Tuesday, Clinton would likely take a delegate lead difficult for the Vermont senator to overcome.
Taken together, 865 Democratic delegates to the party's national nominating convention are up for grabs in the Super Tuesday contests in 11 states and American Samoa. Sanders aims to stay close to Clinton in the South while focusing most of his attention on states in the Midwest and Northeast, including his home state of Vermont.
As Clinton relished the most sweeping victory of her political career, her focus was already on Super Tuesday — and the general election.
"Despite what you hear, we don't need to make America great again," Clinton said at a rally Saturday night, alluding to Republican front-runner Donald Trump and his campaign slogan. "America has never stopped being great," Clinton declared.
Sanders acknowledged getting "decimated" in South Carolina, but said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that his campaign is "looking to the future, not looking back" as the contests move outside the South.
Like Clinton, Trump has won three of the four early voting contests. He's cleared the field of nearly all his rivals, but is engaged in an increasingly bitter contest with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, two senators scrambling to stop the billionaire from running away with the Republican nomination.
On Tuesday, Republicans will vote in 11 states, with 595 delegates at stake.
Cruz acknowledged that a strong showing by Trump on Tuesday could perhaps seal the nomination for the real estate magnate. The Texas senator told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that "there is no doubt that if Donald steamrolls through Super Tuesday, wins everywhere with big margins, that he may well be unstoppable."
Whatever the polls, Rubio expressed confidence that Trump won't be the Republican presidential nominee. But the Florida senator warned Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation that if Trump does win the nomination "it will split us and splinter us in a way that we may never be able to recover."
The Republican candidates fired insults at each other Saturday. Cruz asked parents if they would be pleased if their children spouted profanities in the manner of the brash billionaire, while Rubio mocked Trump as a "con artist" with "the worst spray tan in America."
For Clinton, South Carolina was a moment to wipe away bitter memories of her loss to Barack Obama there eight years ago. She won the support of nearly 9 in 10 black voters, crucial Democratic backers who had abandoned her for Obama in 2008.
Sanders, expecting defeat on Saturday, left the state before voting finished and turned his attention to states outside the South that vote in Tuesday's delegate-rich contests. He didn't mention the results of the South Carolina vote once in a nearly hour-long speech in Minnesota late Saturday night, but in a statement, vowed to fight on aggressively.
Clinton allies quickly touted the breadth of her victory. Along with blacks, she won most women and voters aged 30 and older, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks..
Sanders continued to do well with young voters, his most passionate supporters. He also carried those who identified themselves as independent and most white voters.
A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders has energized his supporters with impassioned calls for breaking up Wall Street banks and making tuition free at public colleges and universities. But the senator from Vermont, a state where about 1 per cent of the population is black, lacks Clinton's deep ties to the African-American community.
Clinton's second White House bid lurched to an uneven start, with a narrow victory over Sanders in Iowa and a crushing loss to the senator in New Hampshire. She pulled off a five-point win over Sanders in last week's Nevada caucus, a crucial victory that helped stem Sanders' momentum.
Clinton's campaign hopes her strong showing in South Carolina foreshadows similar outcomes in states such as Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia that vote Tuesday and have large minority populations.
Sanders has built a massive network of small donors and has the money to stay in the race deep into the spring. Still, Clinton's campaign sees a chance to build enough of a delegate lead to put the race out of reach during the sprint through March.
Clinton picked up most of South Carolina's 53 delegates, winning 39 to Sanders' 14.
Going into South Carolina, Clinton had a one-delegate edge over Sanders. However, she has a substantial lead among superdelegates, the Democratic Party leaders who can vote for the candidate of their choice at this summer's national convention, regardless of how their states vote. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination.
Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey in Austin, Texas, and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.