Hillary Clinton continued her sweep across the South on Tuesday, easily winning Georgia’s Democratic presidential primary days after dominating in South Carolina.
Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders was no match for Clinton, who has benefited from heavily African-American Southern states to bounce back from a 22-point loss in New Hampshire. Exit polls Tuesday showed black voters made up 46 percent of the Democratic electorate in Georgia.
Clinton’s win here was not unexpected. Polling had shown her doing quite well in Georgia even as Sanders cut into her leads in other states. A Channel 2 Action News poll released Monday had Clinton with a nearly 50-point lead over Sanders, who had shifted his resources to states in the Midwest and Northeast.
It was the first win in a big night for Clinton, who won several states, including Texas, which offered the largest number of delegates in what became known as the SEC primary.
Neither candidate was in Georgia for the vote. Sanders was at home in Vermont, and Clinton spent part of Tuesday in Minnesota and rallied supporters in Miami as votes were counted.
Two of Clinton’s biggest Atlanta boosters predicted smooth sailing for the former secretary of state in the months ahead.
“She is going to win not just only Georgia, but she’s going to carry the whole South. … We’re going to send her to Philadelphia as the nominee of the Democratic Party. And we’re going to win in November,” U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, told the crowd assembled at Clinton’s Atlanta watch party at Paschal’s Restaurant.
“I don’t see any stumbling blocks,” Lewis told reporters shortly after Georgia’s primary race was called in Clinton’s favor.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, an early supporter of Clinton’s, said Sanders’ big win in the New Hampshire primary last month helped force her Georgia boosters to up their game.
“It really focused the mind once we saw that we were going to have to really deal with the Sanders team in this area. Today’s results I think have come from that,” Reed told reporters.
“This is exactly what I said was going to happen two to three weeks ago. Georgia was never in doubt,” Reed said. “We were going to do the work that was necessary to hold the coalition together in the city, the region and the state, and to deliver concrete results to Secretary Clinton. She’s on the way to the nomination.”
Sanders, speaking to supporters in Vermont, made no mention of Georgia or any other state that voted Tuesday, and he vowed to remain competitive.
“You’re going to see a lot of election results coming in,” he said. “This is not a general election. It’s not winner take all. By the end of tonight we are going to win many hundreds of delegates.”
His highest-profile Georgia supporter, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, made much the same case.
“Bernie Sanders is winning in Vermont; it looks like he’s going to win in Oklahoma. He’s competitive in Massachusetts,” Fort said. “The bottom line is this: In the South, we knew through polling it was going to be difficult. But he’s competitive everywhere else. It’s a national campaign as of today.”
In Georgia alone, 102 delegates were at stake Tuesday. Each of the state’s 14 congressional districts awards between four and seven delegates proportionally among winners with at least 15 percent of the district vote. That accounts for 67 delegates. An additional 22 delegates are split proportionally among candidates who win at least 15 percent of the statewide vote. Thirteen more are leadership delegates also divvied up by statewide support. Not up for grabs are the 15 superdelegates — party elites who can support anyone they wish. Most have already declared for Clinton.
Sanders appeared to be getting enough of the vote Tuesday to qualify for delegates from Georgia, albeit fewer than Clinton.
The South came through for Clinton in the so-called SEC primary. In addition to Georgia, Clinton was projected to win Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Sanders won Oklahoma and Vermont, while Clinton was ahead in Massachusetts.
Voters across the state said Tuesday that Clinton’s experience was important, while others said it’s time for the first female president.
“I like Bernie very much, but I think Hillary is more qualified for the job,” Earline Mace, 65, a retired packing machine operator at Frito Lay, said as she voted at a community center in Perry. “I really think she has enough experience to do it. All the other candidates in the running, to me, they just don’t measure up to her experience.”
Maradese Duncan of Sandy Springs voted for Clinton to try to unify the country.
“I saw that out here today,” Duncan said. “There are people who still want to keep that togetherness and hoping that it’ll be strong.”
Duncan also said she was proud to vote for a woman.
“I love that,” she said. “And I love Hillary Clinton. She stands for togetherness, and I love that.”
Back in Perry, 21-year-old Emily Rankin had little love for Clinton. Instead, her Sanders T-shirt made her choice clear.
“I feel very strongly about Bernie Sanders because I feel like he really has our interests in mind,” said Rankin, who was voting for the first time. “He’s for the people. He’s not taking any money from big banks, big pharmacies.”
Exit polls showed about half of voters in Georgia’s Democratic primary were African-American, and about eight in 10 of them favored Clinton. That mirrors her strong showing among black voters in South Carolina over the weekend.
White voters accounted for about four in 10 Georgia Democrats, and their votes were more closely split, with Sanders holding a slight edge.
Clinton won among both men and women, although female voters backed her 70 percent to 29 percent for Sanders.
Staff writers Tamar Hallmeran and Laura Diaz and The Associated Press contributed to this article.