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Former Vice President Joe Biden makes comeback with blowout win in South Carolina

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.”

Joe Biden declares victory in South Carolina (From SkyNews via YouTube)

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.

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South Carolina Democrats deciding first-in-the-South presidential primary

Joe Biden faces crucial test against Bernie Sanders in the Palmetto State

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON (CFP) — Democrats are going to the polls across South Carolina Saturday to pick their favorite for the party’s presidential nomination, which former Vice President Joe Biden hoping to revive his flagging fortunes heading into Super Tuesday and Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders hoping to add to his list of victories.

Not on the ballot in Saturday’s first-in-the-South primary is former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent nearly $500 million of his own fortune on his campaign and will make his debut in contests on Tuesday in 14 states, including seven in the South.

Polls in the Palmetto State close at 7 p.m. ET. Only Democrats are voting; South Carolina Republicans opted to cancel their primary in support of President Donald Trump.

Sanders and Biden compete in South Carolina

After finishing fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire and a distant second to Sanders in Iowa, Biden’s campaign hopes his strong support among African American voters — who will make up about 60 percent of the electorate in South Carolina — will propel him to his first victory of the presidential race.

Four years ago, Sanders was crushed nearly 3-to-1 in South Carolina by Hillary Clinton, who carried all 46 counties. But this time around, his chances will be helped by a more fractured field and a strong statewide organization built since his defeat last time around.

Most public polling in the last week of the race showed no statistically significant difference between Biden and Sanders, although some polls showed the former vice president had built a lead.

Five other candidates are on the ballot Saturday: California businessman Tom Steyer, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttegieg, U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Polls show Steyer, who wasn’t a factor in the first three contests, in third place behind Biden and Sanders in South Carolina, with the rest of the candidates trailing.

A pot of 54 delegates are at stake Saturday, 12 allocated proportionally based on the statewide results and 35 allocated proportionally based on the results in the state’s seven congressional districts. However, only candidates who win at least 15 percent of the vote statewide or in a congressional district qualify for any delegates.

Pre-election polling indicates that Biden and Sanders could end up splitting all 54 delegates between them, although that will depend on district-level results, where public polling has not been done.

After Saturday, the presidential race in the South turns to seven Super Tuesday states where delegates will be selected — Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma.

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March Madness: Presidential primary season turns South with a vengeance

10 Southern states hold primaries during March, with nearly 1,000 Democratic delegates at stake

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

The 2020 presidential primary calendar finally turns to the South on the last day of February, when South Carolina Democrats cast their ballots in their state’s first-in-the-South primary.

Then, buckle up. The political version of March Madness is about to take off.

During March, 10 Southern states will hold Democratic presidential primaries, with 981 delegates at stake — nearly 25 percent of the total pledged delegates who will officially pick the party’s presidential nominee in Milwaukee in July.

Louisiana, which votes in April, and West Virginia and Kentucky, which vote in May, are the only three Southern states who won’t pick delegates in March.

On March 3, seven Southern states — Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and North Carolina — will vote, with 621 Democratic delegates on the line, including 228 alone in the Lone Star State. Florida, with 219 delegates, goes two weeks later, and Georgia, with 105, goes the week after that.

In most of these states, the amount of public polling on the Democratic race has been sparse to non-existent. That, combined with the fluidity of the race after Iowa and New Hampshire, means all of the Southern races are shrouded in uncertainty.

So the presidential race takes on a twang, here are some things to watch for:

If Biden Bites the Dust: The former vice president’s campaign will be on life support, or worse, if he loses in South Carolina, which will particularly shake up the landscape in the South because of his heretofore solid support among African American voters.

Black voters make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana; they are a smaller but still powerful group everywhere else. If Biden exits after South Carolina, his African American supporters will be looking for a new home, opening up an avenue for someone to come in and hoover up a crop of Southern delegates. Or, the black vote could fracture between multiple candidates, adding even more uncertainty to the overall race.

Bloomberg’s Debut: The March 3 Super Tuesday primaries (seven in the South and seven in other parts of the country) will be the first test for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been building staff and airing ads across the region while his competitors dallied and debated in the early states. If he can tap into Biden’s African American support, Bloomberg could become an unstoppable force; his performance across the South will tell us whether that’s probable or even possible.

Bernie, Bless His Heart: Four years ago, Hillary Clinton plum wore out Bernie Sanders all across the South. The only states he carried were West Virginia and Oklahoma (and how on earth did a self-described socialist win Oklahoma?), a haul that gave her an insurmountable delegate lead. Against a much more fractured field, Sanders is likely to improve on that dismal performance, but if Bloomberg or one of the other candidates puts together a coalition that sweeps the South, it could be deja vu all over again for Bernie and his ‘bros.

Wave the Rainbow Shirt: Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to make a serious run for the presidential nomination in either political party. How will this play in the evangelical South? Or among culturally conservative African American voters? Polling to date has shed little light on this; the results in March might, although there are a myriad of reasons Buttigieg might falter in the South that have nothing to do with his sexual identity, particularly his sparse political resume.

Danged Yankees: The 2020 Democratic race features one current (Bloomberg) and one former (Sanders) New Yorker, along with candidates from Boston, Delaware, Minnesota, and Indiana. Indeed, for the first time since the modern primary process took root in the 1950s, a competitive Democratic primary race is taking off with nary a Southerner among the major players (if one remembers that for all her New York bona fides, Hillary Clinton was once first lady of Arkansas.) So to the degree that any regional political affinity remains, it won’t be in play in 2020, although Elizabeth Warren does try to remind folks at every opportunity that she grew up in Oklahoma. (As if that compensates for moving to Boston and becoming a Red Sox fan.)

Expanding The Map: If one considers that the primary — perhaps only — purpose of a presidential primary process is to pick a candidate who can win in November, the outcomes of Democratic primary season would seem a poor barometer to predict what might happen in the general election. After all, no matter how well a Democrat does in Arkansas or Alabama or Mississippi in March, she or he is not going to carry these states in November, unless something goes catastrophically wrong on the Republican side.

However, Florida and North Carolina will be hotly contested in the general election, and Democrats have hopes of flipping Texas and Georgia. So time, energy and money (think Bloomberg) expended in those states in the primary seasons could pay dividends down the line. (It’s worth noting that after Barack Obama organized in Virginia and Indiana to compete against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries, he flipped both of those states in November.)

What About Trump? The GOP is holding primaries at the same time as Democrats in all of the Southern states except for South Carolina and Virginia, where they have been cancelled in deference to President Donald Trump. Trump, of course, has no serious opposition, but his campaign has embarked on a strategy of trying to drive up his vote totals in uncontested primaries as a sign of strength. So don’t be surprised if you see Trump parachuting into the South during March to rally his faithful — and, as a delightful bonus, to irritate the Democrats.

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10 takeaways from the second 2020 Democratic debate

Kamala Harris draws blood on Joe Biden on race issue; Sanders stands pat as grumpy socialist

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

MIAMI (CFP) — The second flight of 10 Democrats took the stage in Miami Thursday night for the second of two nights of debate among the more than two dozen candidates running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Here’s a recap of some of the key takeaways from the proceedings:

Kamala Harris challenges Joe Biden on race during Democratic debate (From MSNBC)

1. Race and Fireworks: The tussle of the night — and the clip every network will play for days — was between former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California. It began when an emotional Harris took aim at Biden for his recent comments that he was able to work with segregationist senators in the past, which she called “hurtful.” “I will tell you on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats,” she said, explaining how she benefited from school busing in the 1970s, which Biden opposed at the time. Biden, his anger rising, was having none of it: “I did not praise racists. This is not true,” he said, before launching into a somewhat disjointed defense of his record on civil rights, which ended awkwardly when he noted that his time was up. The former vice president seemed a bit rattled after the exchange, although he recovered his equilibrium later in the debate.

2. Bernie Being Bernie: The most consistent performer on the stage was U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who, in his own indomitable style, stuck to his battle-tested positions on the need for a political revolution to take America back from the greedy, unscrupulous capitalist class. Asked how he, as a older white man, could represent the party’s diversity, he stuck to his economic line: “How come today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she was making 45 years ago … We need a party that is diverse, but we need a party that has guts.” Love him or hate him, this is one grumpy socialist who knows his own mind and never wavers — and does it all at the top of his lungs.

3. South Bend Shooting: Mayor Pete Buttegieg had to handle a hot potato question about a shooting of a black man by a white police officer in the city he leads, South Bend, Indiana. “It’s a mess, and we’re hurting … I have to face the fact that nothing I can say will bring (the victim) back,” he said. And while conceding that he has not been able as mayor to bring more diversity to the city’s mostly white police force, he also said that the investigation into the shooting needs to run its course — and ignored a shouted demand from U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California that he fire the officer involved.

4. Generational Dust-Up: Swalwell got in a pointed dig at Biden by quoting a speech that the septuagenarian former vice president made calling for passing the torch to a new generation of leadership — 32 years ago, when Swalwell was 6. That set off a cacophony of cross-talk that only ended when Harris managed to get off the line of the night: “Hey guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on the table.”

5. Private Insurance Fault Line: When asked by the moderator if they supported abolishing private health insurance as part of a Medicare-for-all plan, only two candidates — Sanders and Harris — raised their hands. Sanders offered a robust defense of the idea, saying that if other major countries such as Britain and Canada can operate a health care system for their citizens, the United States should be able to do the same. The biggest pushback on eliminating private insurance came from U.S. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who noted that Canada has just a tenth of the population of the United States, and Biden, who touted his role in passing Obamacare and said he had no intention of scrapping it. Buttigieg proposed a mixture of public and private plans that he called “Medicare-for-all-who-want-it.”

6. At Back of the Pack: Unlike in the first debate, when former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro had a breakout performance, none of the candidates lagging at the back of the pack turned in a performance that is likely to move the needle. Bennet did manage to grab a bit of air time; Swalwell tried to create moments on gun control and his calls for generational change; and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York tried to do the same with her support for legal abortion. But neither they nor former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper are likely to play much of a role in the post-debate conversation.

7. Stepping Up The Trump Attacks: The candidates in the second debate had clearly paid attention to pundits’ commentary after the first debate that President Donald Trump had not been sufficiently targeted. They stepped up the rhetoric against the president, particularly on his immigration policies. As Sanders put it, with his characteristic subtlety: “Trump is a phony. Trump is a pathological liar and a racist.”

8. Making News: Very little of what the candidates said during the debate was unexpected or made much news, with one exception — Gillibrand said that if elected, “my first act will be to engage Iran to stabilize the Middle East,” which would change 40 years of official hostility to the imams in Tehran.

9. Um, Why Were These People on the Stage? Democrats did nothing to burnish their reputation for seriousness by including new age guru Marianne Williamson and tech bro Andrew Yang as part of the debate, both of whom seemed hopelessly out of place and, frankly, in the way. It was perhaps not as silly as hosting Kim Kardashian, but it was close. Yang, to his credit, was mostly mute and later complained that his microphone had been turned off (if only); Williamson, alas, opted to interject herself with any number of peculiar observations, including that her first phone call as president would be to the president of New Zealand (which, by the way, doesn’t have a president) and that she was going to “harness love” to beat Trump. Good luck with that.

10. Winners and Losers: The winner of the night was clearly Harris, who managed to make herself look  presidential and take a bite out of Biden. The biggest loser of the evening was Biden, who, as the front-runner, needed to stay above the fray, but, by letting Harris get under his skin, may have punctured his aura of invincibility. Sanders and Buttigieg did no harm to their prospects, but Gillibrand clearly suffered in comparison to Harris, the only other woman on the stage.

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Democrats’ 2020 White House roadshow descends on South Carolina

Nearly two dozen candidates for Democratic nomination speak at marathon session of state party

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — The Democratic Party’s vast field of 2020 White House hopefuls turned up in South Carolina Saturday, jockeying for political position in the first-in-the-South primary state.

Over the course of nearly nine hours, a parade of 23 candidates spoke to delegates at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s annual convention, as party leaders interspersed business with eight-minute pitches from contenders — major, minor and obscure.

“It is the price we pay for all of these people wanting to see you,” quipped Trav Robertson, the state party chair.

Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses South Carolina Democrats (From MSNBC)

During his speech, former Vice President Joe Biden — who held a 20-point lead over the rest of the field in the Palmetto State in a recent poll by Post and Courier newspaper — did not address his controversial remarks about being able to work with segregationist senators, which drew sharp criticism from his Democratic rivals.

He did, however, go directly after President Donald Trump, saying it was “imperative” to defeat him in 2020.

“You all know in your bones this election is more important than any other election you’ve been involved in,” Biden said. “Four more years of Donald Trump will permanently change the character of this country.”

In her remarks, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was in second place behind Biden in the Post and Courier poll, offered a litany of specific policy proposals, saying “people across this country understand its time for big structural change. The time for small ideas is over.”

The centerpiece of the program she outlined is a 2 percent increase on income tax for the wealthiest Americans to fund universal childcare and pre-K and tuition-free college tuition.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s appearance in Columbia marked a return to the campaign trail after he returned home to deal with the fallout after a black man was shot by a police officer.

“We already know why such deep wounds are surfacing, why our whole community hurts,” Buttigieg said. “My community is full of people who believe in safety and justice. We will heal, and we will become stronger in the broken places.”

Buttigieg, who placed third behind Biden and Warren in the Post and Courier poll, said Democrats “need a new generation of leadership” to draw a contrast with Trump.

“We are not going to win by going on the president’s show,” he said. “Are you ready to stand with me and change the channel?”

The two Southerners in the Democratic field — former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro — were among the candidates who spoke Saturday.

Beto O’Rourke goes down in the crowd to deliver remarks (From MSNBC)

O’Rourke, who eschewed the podium and gave his speech on the floor amid a scrum of delegates and photographers, offered blistering criticism of the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“There are children sleeping on cold concrete floors with aluminum foil for blankets, in the worst, most inhumane conditions,” O’Rouke said. “That cannot be us. That cannot be America. But for as long as this man is in office, it will be.”

Castro made a call for police reform, rattling off a list of African Americans and Latinos who died at the hands of police.

“They deserve justice too,” said Castro, who said if he’s elected, “we won’t have any second-class citizens in the United States.”

In his remarks, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont pushed back on comments made earlier in the week at a gathering of party centrists that the self-described Democratic socialist presents “an existential threat” to the party.

“Why am I an existential threat? Maybe it’s because I will take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and pass a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program,” Sanders said. “Maybe it’s because we’re going to break up the major banks on Wall Street … Maybe it’s because we’re going to take on the fossil fuel industry.”

Sanders has been running second to Biden in most national polls, but he has been trying to regain his footing in South Carolina, where his support has dropped to just 9 percent in the latest Post and Courier poll, putting him in fourth place.

The day of speeches kicked off with U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who criticized what she called Trump’s “rap sheet” in pushing tax cuts, tariffs and embracing “dictators” around the world.

“Let’s prosecute that case, and let’s not turn back the clock,” she said. “Let’s start the next chapter.”

The breakout performances of the day among the candidates at the back of the pack came from U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Klobuchar highlighted her working class background and called for an “optimistic economic agenda” that works for all parts of the country.

“I don’t come from money. I have grit. And I got into politics for a reason,” Klobuchar said. “I know how to win.”

Booker said Democrats can’t be satisfied with just beating Trump but must embrace “bold dreams.”

“Beating Donald Trump gets us out of the valley, but it doesn’t get us to the mountaintop,” he said. “He wants to make this election about hate; we need to make this election about love. He wants to make this election about tearing people down; we need to make this election about building people up.”

South Carolina’s 2020 presidential primary, scheduled for Feb. 29, will be the fourth contest, after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. It will be the first test of candidates’ appeal in the South and among African Americans, who make up a majority of Democratic voters in the state.

The Post and Courier’s latest poll found Biden was the choice of 37 percent of likely primary voters, bolstered by his strong support among black voters, among whom he tops 50 percent.

Warren was followed at 17 percent and Buttigieg at 11 percent. None of the other candidates were in double digits.

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