WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was projected to win the Democratic primary in South Carolina within minutes of the polls closing Saturday night based on exit polls, several media organizations reported.
With more than 90 percent of the vote reported, Clinton had 73.5 percent of the vote, and a nearly 50-point lead over Sanders -- double the 25-point lead the polls showed her having before voting started.
South Carolina, where the New York Times reported she was estimated to have the support of African-Americans by a 5-to-1 margin, was described as important for her going into Super Tuesday because of the large number of black voters in southern states, which make up half the primaries on March 1.
Clinton lost the state to Barack Obama in 2008 and has worked to build a coalition of black voters, who were expected to be more than half those voting in the primary. Six of the 11 Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday are in states with large African-American populations.
"From one end of this state to another, I am so greatly appreciative because today you sent a message that in America when we stand together there is no barrier too big to break," Clinton said at rally to celebrate the victory. "We've now gone through four early states. I want to congratulate Senator Sanders on running a great race, and tomorrow this campaign goes national."
Clinton's speech pivoted toward Super Tuesday, as well as beyond the primary, saying "we don't need to make America great again -- America has never stopped being great," referencing Republican frontrunner Donald Trump's campaign slogan.
While Sanders has never been expected to win South Carolina -- Clinton's lead in the polls has shrunk in recent weeks -- pundits have noted he does not poll well among minorities, and specifically African-Americans.
"Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just beginning," Sanders said in a statement while on the way to a rally in Minnesota. "We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire. She won a decisive victory in South Carolina. Now it's on to Super Tuesday... Our grassroots political revolution is growing state by state, we won't stop now."
While Sanders has denied that he "gave up" on South Carolina, he has been criticized by residents of the state for the lack of time spent there. Since his loss to Clinton in last week's Nevada caucus, he has focused on other states and was planning rallies in Texas and Minnesota on Saturday, according to CNN.
"To me, there is no state more important than South Carolina," Cornell Belcher, a pollster for President Obama when he won the state in 2008, told the L.A. Times. "If, in South Carolina, Bernie Sanders shows an inability to compete for African American voters, he cannot be the nominee."