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Sanders turns gaze to Midwest

February 25, 2016 at 8:08 PM EST
Donald Trump has won three straight state contests and is firmly ahead in Super Tuesday polls going into tonight’s GOP debate in Houston. Can the remaining Republican candidates slow him down before the next round of votes? Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders turns his attention from South Carolina to the Midwest. Judy Woodruff reports.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: This day was a quiet one on the Republican campaign trail: five candidates left, but no scheduled events.

Tonight, though, they’re facing off in Houston for debate number 10. Donald Trump, winner of three straight contests, will once again be center stage. The big question, how the other four candidates try to slow him down.

As for the two Democrats, they were out stumping today, but hundreds of miles apart. Hillary Clinton spent the day in South Carolina, where Democrats vote this Saturday. In Kingstree, she stressed one of the central themes of her Palmetto State campaign: equality.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: I want to break down all the barriers that stand in the way of people everywhere in our country pursuing and achieving their God-given potential, because America can’t live up to its potential unless we remove the barriers to let every American have the chance to live up to his or her potential.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Her rival, Bernie Sanders, turned his focus away from South Carolina today. He started things off in Ohio, one of the many states that vote in March. From there, he moved on to Flint, Michigan, the city still reeling from the discovery that its drinking water had been tainted with lead.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: If there’s any anything positive, if there’s any silver lining out of this tragedy, is, it is my hope that the American people will look at Flint and say never again can we allow a community to undergo this.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HARI SREENIVASAN: On the ground in South Carolina today is our own Judy Woodruff, who joins us from Columbia.

So, Judy, how important is South Carolina for Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hi there, Hari, from across the street from the state capitol here in Columbia.

It’s important for Hillary Clinton. I have to say, though, that the expectation is that she clearly is going to win. The polls all have her ahead by more than double — by double digits. So it’s really a matter of expectations. Can she beat that?

In fact, I had a professor, a political science professor, at the University of South Carolina say to me today, if she wins by less than 20 points, it’s a moral victory for Bernie Sanders. That’s how far ahead she is.

Some of that is clearly on the strength of the African-American community. They make up more than half of the Democratic primary vote. And that’s going to be in that report I’m working on for the “NewsHour” tomorrow.

But her people are working the state, Hari. They’re not taking it for granted, but it’s all about the margins now for her.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And the Sanders campaign looks to be doing kind of a different tactic, not there nearly as much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s right.

Senator Sanders was here yesterday, but he had a morning news conference. Then he took off for other states, had big rallies yesterday out in the Midwest and the Southwestern U.S. He has a strong effort here, Hari. He was here in January, but losing Nevada, coming in five points behind Hillary Clinton in Nevada really made a difference.

And now the Sanders camp say they are focused on the Super Tuesday states, the 11 states where Democrats will come out and vote next Tuesday. So, they have been very open about that. It’s not that they’re giving up on South Carolina by any means. They have got something like 200 people working the state for them right now, but their focus is on the future.

It’s on Missouri. It’s on states like Oklahoma, where Senator Sanders had that big turnout last night — or yesterday — in Tulsa. And they, too, talk about the margin. They say they don’t expect to win here; they just don’t want to hold down Secretary Clinton’s margin.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Do you see and hear the evidence on the airwaves, the political ads, I’m assuming, on TV and radio as you travel through from interview to interview?

JUDY WOODRUFF: You do.

You see it — certainly see it in your hotel room. People talk about the ads. Hillary — Bernie Sanders was on the air here early, but Hillary Clinton has stepped up her advertising in the last week. You see this new ad they put on a few days ago featuring the actor Morgan Freeman with his very distinctive voice reminding anybody who’s watching that Hillary Clinton had been coming to South Carolina since she was a law student, recapping her connection to this state.

That clearly helps her. Sanders is running a lot of ads on radio. He spent over a million dollars, but, at this point, as we get down to the vote on Saturday, it’s more of Hillary Clinton on the air.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What are the issues that are most important to South Carolinians now that you’re hearing from?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hari, it’s probably what you’re hearing in other parts of the country from Democrats. They talk about the economy. They want to see jobs.

A lot of discussion about equality, about how they feel that part of the country, part of America has been left out of the prosperity we have seen in the recovery since the financial collapse. And they — when you talk to voters, they talk about which candidate is going to be better able to deliver relief from what they feel is a growing inequality.

And they also bring up who can beat the Republican in the fall. They’re already talking about Donald Trump. They have noticed how well he’s doing. They want a candidate who can beat him. And among the candidates — or among the voters I have spoken to, some of them think Hillary Clinton would be the stronger candidate against Donald Trump. Others say that — Bernie Sanders.

So, I have seen a split in that way, but these voters are very practical in their thinking, and I think that may tell you something about Super Tuesday as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Judy Woodruff on the road in Columbia, South Carolina, looking forward to your report tomorrow night. Thanks so much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

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