Hillary Clinton banks on African-American vote in South Carolina
US Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton addresses supporters in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 2016 (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

The Democratic presidential nomination race shifts Saturday to South Carolina, with Hillary Clinton banking on the black vote to beat Bernie Sanders and gain momentum ahead of the multi-state "Super Tuesday" contests next week.

In this early stage of the race, Clinton leads in the delegate count for the nominating convention this summer, after winning in two of the first three states to vote -- in Iowa, narrowly, and then in Nevada.

In South Carolina, where 55 percent of voters in the Democratic primary in 2008 were African-American, polls show Clinton is favored to win.

Some Clinton supporters say Senator Sanders, a transplanted New Yorker and self declared democratic socialist who now represents Vermont, is a little known commodity down here in the south.

"No one knows about him. He hasn't been in the eye of the public as long as Hillary has," Olivia Brown, 26, who works in a local health insurance company, said at a Clinton campaign appearance Thursday.

"Hillary looks presidential," Brown added.

"Hillary is a household name," added her mother, Sharon Williams, a 57-year-old science teacher.

"She doesn't give up. She has a very strong fighting spirit. She's able to always pull along, to find another way to come back and restart her goals," Williams said.

Leaving nothing to chance, the entire Clinton family has deployed to South Carolina to plug away for Hillary.

The hope is that a win here will give fresh drive to the once clear cut favorite whose campaign now seems at times to be sputtering against the upstart Sanders.

Team Clinton -- former president Bill, daughter Chelsea and Hillary herself -- are hitting black churches and college campuses to hammer away at the same message.

It goes like this: Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with a solid program to break down barriers that still prevent minorities in the United States from getting ahead.

She notes specifically the cost the cost of going to college and the need to reduce the disparity between prison sentences meted out to young blacks, compared to young white offenders.

"Right now there are barriers, economic barriers, health barriers, education barriers. We also have to be honest about systemic racism which is still a problem in America," Clinton said Thursday night at the recreation center of Royal Baptist Church in the city of North Charleston.

Later in the evening she paid a visit to a fundraising concert and declared "Let's make sure to get out and vote on Saturday!"

- 'Super Tuesday' -

It was just a few hundred meters away in this town that a young white man shot and killed nine people praying at a black church back in June of last year.

In her rally, the 68-year-old Clinton targeted Sanders, accusing him of having voted in the past in favor of a loophole that eventually allowed the church shooter to obtain a firearm.

Sanders, 74, will come to South Carolina Friday for a rally and concert but as he knows his prospects here are poor, he has invested little in the state.

Instead, he is focusing on states that will vote in March like Ohio and Minnesota. A whopping 45 percent of the delegates attending the nominating convention will be up for grabs in March, compared to two percent so far.

Sanders is betting on a long and close race, perhaps even up to the final primaries in May and June.

"There are dozens and dozens and dozens of states that follow. In some of those states I expect we are going do very well and win and maybe by large amounts. In some states we're going to lose," Sanders told a news conference Wednesday.

Since he entered the campaign last year, Sanders has made up some lost ground with minorities in terms of face and name recognition.

Some high profile blacks have endorsed him, such as film director Spike Lee and the rapper Killer Mike.

But the former first lady's ties with blacks, while solid, are not without blemishes.

One supporter of the "Black Lives Matter" movement criticized Clinton at a private event Wednesday for having defended in 1996 her husband Bill's policies that lend to a disproportionately high incarceration rate for young blacks.

Hillary Clinton at the time used the term "super predators" to refer to certain kids.

"Oh, look. I said that that was a poor choice of words. And never used it before, never used it since. And looking back, I shouldn't have used those words. I certainly wouldn't use them today," Clinton said Thursday on MSNBC.

Polls carried out through last week gave Clinton a clear advantage in South Carolina: 56 percent of the votes in a Fox News poll, compared to 28 percent for Bernie Sanders.

Things are less clear for Super Tuesday. Clinton is ahead in most of the 11 states that will hold Democratic nominating contests, but Sanders has the edge in Massachusetts and his adopted home state of Vermont.