NEW YORK - Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scored a resounding victory over Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, in Saturday's South Carolina Democratic primary, a rout expected to ensure her triumph in a number of southern states that vote on Tuesday.

Victory for Mrs Clinton was widely expected but it gives her momentum ahead of the "Super Tuesday" primaries in 11 states next week.

Her overwhelming win in the Palmetto State, where African-Americans made up a larger percentage of the electorate than they did in 2008, especially gives Clinton a significant boost heading into March 1 primaries. Clinton's win over Sanders in South Carolina was dominant, with her margin of victory approaching 50 points.

Clinton's victory is her third of the campaign. A week ago, she captured the Nevada caucuses and won the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses by a razor-thin margin.

"Today you sent a message," Clinton said during a victory speech in Columbia, South Carolina. "When you stand together there is no barrier too big to break," she said. "Tomorrow, this campaign goes national."

South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn, who introduced her, called it a significant victory that "starts Hillary Clinton on her way" to the presidency.

In a statement after Clinton's win was announced, Sanders said, "This campaign is just beginning. We won a decisive victory in New Hampshire. She won a decisive victory in South Carolina. Now it’s on to Super Tuesday."

Bracing for the loss, Sanders has been hitting Clinton on issues important to African Americans. With merely days before larger, delegate-rich states like Texas and Georgia vote on March 1, the senator needs to expand his support among minorities.

Yet exit surveys show why South Carolina is emblematic of Sanders' challenge ahead. Six in ten South Carolina Democratic primary voters were African-American, the exit polls indicated, breaking the state's 55% record from eight years ago, when then-Sen. Barack Obama was on the ballot. Clinton dominated among black voters, capturing the support of more than four out of five.

“This is, in hindsight, going to be a turning point in the campaign,” Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin said following Clinton's win.

Obama's big margin of victory in South Carolina eight years ago was critical in putting him on a path to the nomination. Clinton made a significant investment in the state, appealing in particular to African American women with her campaign's "barber shop" strategy.

Clinton hit hard on issues important to African-American voters, including criminal justice and gun control, while also embracing President Barack Obama. She met with mothers of gun violence victims and picked up the support of Clyburn, the state’s highest-ranking black Democrat who stayed neutral ahead of the 2008 primary. She held town halls on “breaking down barriers” for blacks, carpeted the state with ads and deployed both her daughter, Chelsea, and husband, former president Bill Clinton.

Marlon Kimpson, a state senator, represents the district where the Charleston church massacre and the shooting of Walter Scott took place. “She visited us during those trials and tribulations,” he said. “The people of South Carolina didn’t know and still don’t know Bernie Sanders.” Kimpson also called Sanders’ campaign themes “general” whereas Clinton “has specific plans for black people,” including historically black colleges and universities.

In her victory speech, Clinton also took aim at the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, calling at least twice for more "love and kindness." She also jabbed at his campaign slogan.

“We don’t need to make America great again," she said. "America has never stopped being great. But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers."

Despite Saturday's loss, Sanders' campaign sees an opportunity in Super Tuesday states such as Massachusetts and Oklahoma, with its large percentage of independent voters, as well as Colorado and Minnesota, both caucus states.Sanders is also still flush with campaign cash, pulling in millions of dollars in new contributions after his decisive win in New Hampshire.

In the past couple of days, the senator has taken a more critical tone toward Clinton. At a rally in Orangeburg, he gave an abbreviated version of his stump speech before attacking Clinton’s support for the death penalty as well as 1990s-era welfare reform - emotionally charged topics in African-American communities.

“Let me throw it out,” Sanders said. “I just don’t think the government should be involved in that violence and should be killing people,” he said, stating that Clinton disagrees. He also cited the fact that a lot of innocent “people of color” have been executed.

He then blasted the 1996 welfare overhaul, which, he said, assumed “poor people were ripping off the system.”

The “end result” was a doubling of extreme poverty rates, Sanders told the crowd. “I’m talking about the poorest of the poor, children who are hungry,” he said. “I vigorously opposed that legislation” while “Secretary Clinton supported it,” he said.

On Saturday morning in Texas, he slammed Clinton for supporting the 1996 Defence of Marriage Act, calling it “homophobic.”