Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign manager says they face 'an uphill fight' in South Carolina

"I'm not going to say we're going to win South Carolina," said Faiz Shakir.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign manager Faiz Shakir says that South Carolina is "an uphill fight" and that "I'm not going to say we're going to win South Carolina."

Earlier this week, during an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit, Shakir was asked how the campaign can avoid a contested convention. He responded “Let's win Iowa, then New Hampshire, and then Nevada and California," noticeably omitting South Carolina.

Shakir spoke with ABC News in New Hampshire on Thursday about the state of the race with roughly two months until the first voting contests and he was asked whether the campaign saw South Carolina in play.

“We're realistic and we're honest about where we stand in South Carolina,” Shakir told ABC News. “We are very competitive, solidly in second place. We're going to compete to win every vote we can get in South Carolina.”

Shakir then called South Carolina “an uphill fight.”

“I’m going to be honest with you," he said. "I'm not going to say we're going to win South Carolina. I do think we're standing in better stead in some of those earlier states.”

Shakir’s comments come after a recent Quinnipiac University poll of likely Democratic South Carolina primary voters showed Sanders was 22 points behind former Vice President Joe Biden. The poll, which was released Nov. 18, showed Sanders garnering support from 11% of likely Democratic South Carolina primary voters.

But a source close to the Sanders campaign with knowledge of campaign strategy, says the path to victory in the “First in the South” primary is riddled with bigger hurdles -- the largest challenge being Biden’s unwavering support and long-standing alliances with some of the state's most powerful leaders.

“It’s important to understand the nuances of the campaign," the source told ABC News. "I think one of the challenges is the Clyburn machine, to be honest with you. Everyone knows Rep. Jim Clyburn is supporting Biden. In addition to that, he has the name recognition of being Obama's vice president for eight years and Obama is very powerful here, especially in a primary where nearly 65% of the vote is African American."

“I don't think Jim has anything personally against Bernie. It's just that Biden is a part of the established Democratic leadership,” the source added.

Clyburn, the House Majority Whip, has not endorsed any presidential candidate in the race. The veteran South Carolina lawmaker has enjoyed a decades-long friendship with Biden, often stepping in during times of crisis to defend the former vice president.

He has notably defended the former vice president when he received criticism over drafting the controversial 1994 Crime Bill, formally known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a sweeping bipartisan measure which was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and was a comprehensive response to the country's rising violent crime rate. Critics have argued the measure helped lead to mass incarceration of blacks, especially young men.

Biden who played a pivotal role in getting the bill passed at the time as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has since expressed regret over supporting the past policy, calling it a "mistake" earlier this year.

Clyburn has also aided in seeking to diffuse the backlash following Biden's remarks citing segregationist senators he once worked with as an example of his ability to work with others. Biden apologized for those remarks.

Former state representative Bakari Sellers, who had previously backed California Sen. Kamala Harris before she suspended her presidential campaign, has also accused Clyburn of “tacitly endorsing” Biden, saying in a McClatchy June interview that, “anybody who attempts to say that his thumb is not on the scales is just not paying attention.”

Sanders' South Carolina team is focusing its efforts on undecided voters and young voters who haven’t joined the Biden coalition just yet, the source close to the Sanders campaign said.

“We are targeting young African American voters," the source told ABC News. "We have Killer Mike and Phillip Agnew coming in this weekend. We are showing up in the barbershop. Bernie brings in younger voters who normally don’t get involved in the process. He excites them, and that includes African American voters as well. And we think it takes a new voter to get involved in this process, for turnout purposes, to be able to beat Donald Trump in November.”

Sanders lost South Carolina to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary by over 47%. The campaign's South Carolina state director, Jessica Bright said the South Carolina team is pushing forward with a ground game strategy that they hope will be stronger than the strategy in 2016.

“We have a great team on the ground here from all levels, and we're doing a lot more with reaching people in the rural communities and just spreading the word throughout the state of South Carolina, Bright said. "In 2016 it was a little isolated, but I think now we have more time to really get on the ground, start knocking on doors and building on a great field plan.”

One of the campaign's challenges, she said, is that the vast majority of their base lives in rural communities that often have limited access to broadband.

Shakir noted that doing well in the first three states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada -- could be beneficial to gaining support in South Carolina. Regarding Sanders, Shakir told ABC News that he believes South Carolina voters are “increasingly warming to him, and would warm even further” if the campaign has “early success in Iowa and New Hampshire.”

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