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'Tomorrow we go national': Clinton steamrolls Sanders in South Carolina

South Carolina: It was not enough for Hillary Clinton to win the primary in South Carolina, the state she had lost to the upstart senator Barack Obama eight years ago, marking the beginning of the end of her race.

To steady frayed nerves within her party and her campaign, Clinton needed a significant victory over another upstart senator, Bernie Sanders. Preferably something counted in double figures.

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Clinton swipes at Trump in victory speech

In her South Carolina victory speech, Democratic contender Hillary Clinton says America does not need to be made great again, because "America has never stopped being great."

In the end, she beat Sanders by an astonishing 73.5 per cent to 26 per cent.

Clinton's win suggests she is set to enjoy sweeping victories on  March 1 - "Super Tuesday" -  when 13 states will hold primaries and caucuses, many of them in the South, many of them with demographics very similar to South Carolina's.

Hillary Clinton greets supporters in Columbia, South Carolina, after her resounding win.
Hillary Clinton greets supporters in Columbia, South Carolina, after her resounding win. Photo: AP

Clinton's joy was palpable as she took to the stage at a victory party in the state capital, Columbia.

"Tomorrow we take this campaign national!" she told cheering supporters.

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After having lost to Sanders overwhelmingly in New Hampshire and eked out two narrow victories in earlier contests, Clinton won every county in South Carolina and 39 of its 53 delegates.

Delving deeper into the numbers that made up her victory provided even more good news for her campaign.

Jubilant supporters greet Hillary Clinton at the University of South Carolina volleyball centre in Columbia.
Jubilant supporters greet Hillary Clinton at the University of South Carolina volleyball centre in Columbia. Photo: Bloomberg

In 2008 African-American voters made up 55 per cent of South Carolina primary voters. This year it was 61 per cent, and of those, 84 per cent voted for Clinton, according to exit polls.

This is crucial because it suggests that Clinton has succeeded in positioning herself as the natural successor to Obama, who enjoys huge popularity in the Democratic Party, and may have a firm grip on the coalition of voters he created to win the White House.

Mary Sobah, a 69-year-old retired nurse, is returning to the Clinton camp after voting for Barack Obama.
Mary Sobah, a 69-year-old retired nurse, is returning to the Clinton camp after voting for Barack Obama. Photo: Nick O'Malley

In the crowd was Mary Sobah, a 69-year-old retired nurse. Sobah, who is African-American, has long been a Clinton supporter, having voted for Bill Clinton. But in 2008 she supported Obama.

On Saturday night she was thrilled to return to the Clinton camp. "Oh my God, Oh my God, to vote for the first African-American president and then the first woman president! I could die happy," she said.

Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by a huge margin to secure the state.
Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by a huge margin to secure the state. Photo: Bloomberg

Though Clinton expects to extend her lead over Sanders on Tuesday - and perhaps even to cement it by the end of March - his presence was clear in her speech.

Her congratulations to him were welcomed with warm applause by her supporters - a significant difference in tone from the increasingly ugly Republican campaign - and in her speech she addressed the issues Sanders has championed, including wage and wealth inequality and corporate excesses.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders speaks to the media after arriving in Minnesota about his defeat in South Carolina.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders speaks to the media after arriving in Minnesota about his defeat in South Carolina. Photo: AP

Acknowledging Donald Trump's dominance in the Republican race, Clinton also referred to him in her speech.

"We don't need to make America great again. America never stopped being great. But we do need to make America whole again," she said, referring to his increasingly divisive campaign.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton cheer her victory.
Supporters of Hillary Clinton cheer her victory. Photo: AP

Even as Clinton began to reassert her dominance in the Democratic Party, Trump's insurgent attack on the Republican establishment  gathered pace, with leading candidates savaging each other in the wake of a bitter debate in Texas on Saturday night.

Trump and Florida senator Marco Rubio, who is seeking to position himself as the party's only viable alternative to the populist reality TV star, mocked one another as they campaigned throughout the day.

Hillary is "single best change maker": Bill Clinton

Former president Bill Clinton encourages a crowd in Oklahoma to vote for his wife, Hillary, "because she's the single best change-maker I have ever known."

Rubio sweated too much, had big ears and abused stage make-up, sneered Trump. Trump had a preposterous spray tan, mocked Rubio.

"He couldn't get elected dog catcher in Florida," Trump said at a campaign event in Arkansas.

"He's flying around on Hair Force One," Rubio said from a stage in suburban Atlanta.

So far all of the Republican Party's attempts to stop Trump's takeover have failed, and now prominent party figures, such as New Jersey governor Chris Christie, are beginning to defect to him, deepening the fear and misery of the party's establishment, who see Trump as neither a viable candidate nor a true conservative.

Polls suggest he might win all states but Texas on Super Tuesday, and even there he is threatening senator Ted Cruz, who is himself a Texan.

Such a victory could make him unstoppable.

On Saturday The New York Times reported party elders are growing increasingly frustrated with candidates like John Kasich and Ted Cruz, who are refusing to abandon the race and allow support to coalesce around Rubio, who has yet to win a primary or caucus.

That frustration is increasingly being played out in public.

"My party has gone bats--- crazy," said senator Lindsey Graham at a National Press Club Dinner on Thursday night.