DENMARK, SOUTH CAROLINA – Democratic presidential hopefuls fighting for black voters looked for an edge in South Carolina on Friday as Republicans crisscrossed the state in search of a path out of Donald Trump’s long shadow.
Democrat Hillary Clinton stepped up her hammering of rival Bernie Sanders for what she said are his false claims on President Barack Obama’s legacy. Prominent black leaders echoed the theme, an effort to use the first black president as a wedge between Sanders and black voters.
“He has called the president weak, a disappointment,” Clinton said of Sanders at a forum on Friday. “He does not support, the way I do, building on the progress the president has made.”
Coming off a bruising rout in New Hampshire, the former secretary of state hopes the first-in-the-South primary will showcase her strength with at least one core segment of the Democratic coalition. A Democrat cannot win the nomination, much less the White House, without significant backing from blacks.
For Republicans, South Carolina is another chance to emerge as a viable alternative to Trump, the billionaire who snatched the race away from the Republican establishment. Although Trump appears to have a solid lead in the polls in the state, the rest of the field is hoping to peel off support from the large and influential evangelical community.
As his rivals hustled through rare snowfall Friday, Trump showed he won’t make it easy. He was able to steal the spotlight with a Twitter threat to sue his closest competitor. “If @TedCruz doesn’t clean up his act, stop cheating, & doing negative ads, I have standing to sue him for not being a natural born citizen,” Trump wrote. Another tweet questioned Cruz’s faith: “How can Ted Cruz be an evangelical Christian when he lies so much and is so dishonest?”
Trump’s broadside was a response to cutting new ads the Cruz campaign is airing in South Carolina.
Jeb Bush and his allies also are aiming attacks on the bomb-throwing front-runner, hoping his coarse style and his record on social issues will turn voters off.
Right to Rise USA, the super political action committee backing Bush, released an attack ad blasting Trump for supporting partial-birth abortion, allegedly defrauding students of Trump University and trying “to seize private property to line his own pockets.”
On Friday, Bush campaigned at a faith forum at conservative Bob Jones University in Greenville, where he mused about what his father, former President George H.W. Bush, would think of Trump’s cursing. “I can’t imagine my dad …,” Jeb Bush said, trailing off as the audience laughed.
Bush has embraced his family’s network in the state. He has invited his brother, former President George W. Bush, to campaign with him. On Friday, he picked up the endorsement of South Carolina’s former first lady Iris Campbell, a longtime Bush family ally.
Trump was the only Republican to bypass South Carolina on Friday, redirecting his unconventional campaign to Florida, where he planned to hold a rally in Tampa.
On the Democratic side, Clinton’s slams on Sanders were backed up by the Congressional Black Caucus political action committee. Sanders wants to “undo” Obama’s accomplishments, said PAC Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks, pointing to Sanders’ past criticism of Obama and his 2011 suggestion that Democrats should mount a primary challenge to the president.
“I believe Sen. Sanders’ disparaging comments towards the president are misplaced, misguided and do not give credit where credit is due,” the New York Democrat said.
Sanders says he has been largely supportive of Obama, despite his occasional critique. “Last I heard, a United States senator had the right to disagree with the president, including a president who has done such an extraordinary job,” Sanders said in Thursday night’s debate.
Clinton on Friday significantly bulked up her campaign advertising plan, reaching well beyond the next two states in the state-by-state voting to decide who will represent each party in the November general election. Clinton has an eye on the March 1 “Super Tuesday” contests and now plans to air ads in 17 additional states, including Texas, Minnesota and Georgia.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore ended his campaign after failing to win support. The Republican said he would support the party’s nominee.