Biden revives his fortunes heading into Super Tuesday with nearly 30-point triumph in the Palmetto State
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden revived his flagging presidential campaign Saturday with a clear, convincing win in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential primary, giving him crucial momentum heading into next week’s Super Tuesday contests.
Biden won 48 percent of the vote and carried all 46 counties, defeating Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who came in a distant second at 20 percent.
“Just days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this candidacy dead,” Biden told jubilant supporters in Columbia. “Now, thanks to you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we’ve just won, and we won big.”
Biden used his victory speech to draw a contrast with Sanders, urging Democrats in the Super Tuesday states to “nominate someone who will build on Obamacare, not scrap it; take on the NRA and gun manufacturers, not protect them; [and] stand up to give the poor a fighting chance and have the middle class restored, not raise their taxes.”
The result in South Carolina was welcome news for Biden, who finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and a distant second to Sanders in Nevada. It also marked the first ever primary win for Biden in his third try for the White House.
The key to his win Saturday was a strong performance among African American voters, who made up 56 percent of the Palmetto State electorate. Exit polls showed that Biden took 60 percent of the black vote, running more than 40 points ahead of his nearest rival, Sanders.
Coming in third place in the statewide results was California billionaire Tom Steyer at 11 percent; followed by former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttegieg, 8 percent; U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 7 percent; U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota at 3 percent; and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii at 1 percent.
After the results came in, Steyer dropped out of the race.
Biden and Sanders were the only two candidates on the ballot Saturday who cleared the 15 percent threshold needed statewide and in congressional districts to claim delegates to this summer’s Democratic National Convention. Biden took 39 delegates, to 14 for Sanders.
However, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent nearly $500 million of his own fortune on his campaign, did not compete in South Carolina. He will make his debut in contests on Tuesday in 14 states, including seven in the South.
Only Democrats had a primary in South Carolina; Republicans canceled their primary in deference to President Donald Trump.
For Sanders, South Carolina marked his first defeat of the campaign, after tying for first in Iowa and winning outright in New Hampshire and Nevada. He also got a smaller percentage of the vote in than he did in 2016, when he won 26 percent in a two-way race against Hillary Clinton, and once again lost every county in the state.
Speaking to supporters in Virginia Beach, Sanders offered his congratulations to Biden before pivoting to make the case that he and not Biden offers the kind of revolutionary change that can lead to a Democratic victory in November.
“In order to defeat Trump, we are going to need the largest voter turnout in the history of this country,” Sanders said. “Old-fashioned politics — the same old, same old type of politics that doesn’t excite anybody, that doesn’t energize anybody — that is not going to be the campaign that beats Trump.”
Biden, Sanders and the rest of the field now turn their attention to Super Tuesday, with more than 1,300 delegates at stake nationwide, including 621 across the South.
The list of Southern states holding primaries Tuesday includes Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Outside the region, primaries will be held in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maine, Utah and Vermont.
The state of the races in Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma is a big unknown, given a paucity of public polling in any of those states. The polling that has been done in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia shows Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg bunched at the top, with the other candidates trailing behind.
The question for Biden is whether his win in South Carolina will give him the momentum to push through in the Super Tuesday states, where he is being outspent by Bloomberg and will face Sanders’s formidable ground operation.
One of the biggest factors in who can carry these Southern states will be performance among African American voters, who make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in Alabama and more than a quarter in Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
While Biden ran away with the black vote in South Carolina, he will face new competition Tuesday from Bloomberg, who has been organizing across the region and getting endorsements from African American elected officials.