Pine Bluff, Arkansas (CNN)Hillary Clinton’s campaign aides, empowered by a dominating win in South Carolina, have started to actively push their candidate to avoid mentioning Bernie Sanders on the stump, a marked departure from Clinton’s strategy earlier this month.
Clinton barely mentioned Sanders in the days leading up to the South Carolina primary this week and senior Clinton aides said Sunday that strategy will continue going into Super Tuesday. The reason: The Clinton campaign sees little upside, for now, in going after the popular senator.
The former secretary of state visited Tennessee and Arkansas on Sunday, stopping by two black churches and a historically black college. Clinton’s references to Sanders throughout the day were brief and indirect. She mentioned her “esteemed opponent” and referred to some of his more well-known plans, but voters in the audience would be forgiven if they missed the references.
Sanders has been better defined in the eyes of the Clinton campaign and it is no longer necessary, aides said, for Clinton to hammer him on issues like education, health care and electability. She will still subtly knock him, they said, but Clinton will instead focus on a message of inclusion and “love and kindness” before voters in 12 states go to the polls on Tuesday.
“I really do believe that if we pull together, if we act like the United States of America, America’s best years can still be ahead of us,” Clinton told congregants at Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith in Memphis on Sunday. “And it is not just a president, we need everybody working together.”
Part of the reason Clinton will no longer be so direct with Sanders is practical: Clinton has surrogates and a super PAC that is more than happy to go negative on Sanders.
“Revolution is a very exciting, thrilling word,” Actor Tony Goldwyn said during a lengthy introductory speech in Nashville on Sunday. “But revolutions can also be destructive.”
But there is also a clear political reason why Clinton is toning it down on Sanders: Clinton’s high negatives worry many top aides who know that they will need many of the Vermont senator’s supporters in the general election. One aide said this week that fixing Clinton’s negatives will be a top priority in the coming months.
Clinton’s remarks Sunday, given her audience, were also very targeted towards enriching historically black colleges and universities and addressing racism.
“I think it is very important for us to be honest about systemic racism, especially those of us who are white,” Clinton said at Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
Clinton’s indirect strategy on Sanders is a departure from the way Clinton took on Sanders in Iowa and Nevada.
“Senator Sanders doesn’t talk much about foreign policy, but when he does it raises concerns,” Clinton said days before the Iowa caucuses in January. “Sometimes it can sound like he really hasn’t thought it through.”
And in Nevada, Clinton pushed Sanders hard on health care, charging that he “wants us to start all over again” on the Affordable Care Act given his proposal for universal coverage.
“I want us to make progress right now,” Clinton said in Las Vegas. “I happen to think a progressive is somebody who makes progress, somebody who gets things done that helps people right now.”
Clinton mentioned health care Sunday, but never in those stark terms.
Clinton campaign aides are confident they will have a good night Tuesday, partly because of how convincing their win was in South Carolina. Clinton, an aide said Sunday, is happy with where the campaign is headed and the feeling of momentum that they have after winning the Nevada caucuses.
Instead of focusing on Sanders in the coming days, Clinton will train her fire on Republicans, matching her campaign’s clear but slow pivot to the general election.
Clinton has hit Republican frontrunner Donald Trump in every stump speech she has given for the last few days, knocking his slogan and his “divisiveness” and “demagoguery.” Clinton described the Republican field as “one billionaire, two senators” on Sunday in Arkansas.
“I know they have health care and I want to know what they are going to do to help other people besides themselves,” she said.
Clinton aides don’t want their candidate to get into the day-to-day sparring that has come to define the Republican field, but want to show she is willing to mix it up with them.
Clinton did not comment on the controversy from any stage or in an interview.
Instead, it was Goldwyn, the actor and surrogate, who brought it up with Clinton at a coffee shop visit in Nashville.
“Oh, that’s pathetic,” Clinton said before ducking into the shop.