Joe Biden Wins South Carolina Primary

Joe Biden decisively won the South Carolina primary on Saturday as he looked to slow Bernie Sanders’s march toward the Democratic presidential nomination backed by strong support from black voters.

In early returns, Biden was leading with half the vote. National front-runner Sanders was 32 points behind for second place and Tom Steyer was in third.

Exit polls cited by CNN suggested that Biden was able to win many voters who would have been expected to support more progressive candidates. He even won among voters who self-identified as very liberal, earning 39% of the vote, compared to 30% for Sanders.

At stake in South Carolina are 54 pledged delegates of the 1,991 needed to win the Democratic nomination. More importantly, perhaps, it offers any chance for momentum ahead of March 3.

Before South Carolina, Sanders had 45 delegates, Pete Buttigieg had 26, Biden 15 and Warren 8.

Biden was already looking toward Super Tuesday, when he hopes to use his coalition of African-American support to convert his first strong showing into broad momentum.

Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, which votes on Tuesday, announced his endorsement of Biden just after the polls closed in South Carolina.

“We can’t afford four more years of Donald Trump’s hate-driven chaos and Joe Biden is the candidate with the character, experience, and broad appeal to defeat him,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

Before South Carolina results were announced, North Carolina was the only state among the 14 that vote on Super Tuesday in which Biden was leading.

Black voter affection for Biden stems from goodwill he built in his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president. Some of Biden’s competitors have tried to cut into it by criticizing his vote for the 1994 crime bill, which has since been seen as overly harsh to African American suspects. Tom Steyer has also declared his support for reparations for descendants of slaves. But Biden was still widely favored to win there where the majority of the electorate is black.

Earlier: Biden Needs Strong South Carolina Win to Keep Candidacy Alive

And now, Biden and the other Democrats attempting to dethrone front-runner Sanders are racing against the clock. There are no more debates before Tuesday, making a Saturday evening victory speech perhaps the last chance for Biden to make his case to a national audience.

Slow Counting

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, won the Iowa caucuses, but problems with counting the results dulled the impact of his historic triumph. Both Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren drew renewed attention after strong debate performances that failed to translate into enough votes in New Hampshire and Nevada to make them top competitors. Michael Bloomberg isn’t even competing in South Carolina, but has spent a staggering $538 million of his own money to campaign in Super Tuesday states.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

Overall, Sanders remains the front-runner, racking up delegates in Iowa, which he narrowly lost; New Hampshire, where he narrowly bested Buttigieg; and Nevada, where he beat Biden by a wide margin. He’s leading in western states like California and Colorado and northeastern states like Massachusetts and Maine on Super Tuesday, and he isahead in national polls by double digits.

Earlier: Sanders, Bloomberg Draw Fire in Debate on Who Can Top Trump

After early losses, Biden has wagered his campaign on a strong showing in South Carolina that he argues will foretell wins in southern states with similar numbers of black voters on Super Tuesday: Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

“I’m optimistic about the whole process,” he said Saturday in Greenville.

He got some late-breaking good news, picking up the endorsement Wednesday of influential South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, a kingmaker in the state and the highest-ranking African-American in Congress.

Clyburn told CNN that a Biden win in his state would mark a time to retool his campaign. “I think we will have to sit down and get serious about how we retool this campaign,” he said. “Many of us around the country will be able to join with him and help him get it right.”

According to exit polls broadcast on CBS, Clyburn’s endorsement was called “the most important factor” by 24% of voters and “one of several important factors” by an additional 23%.

But the margin of victory will be crucial.

Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, said Biden would need to win by 10 percentage points or more to project the show of force necessary to revive his campaign and position him as the top challenger to Sanders in what remains a splintered field of candidates.

“Everybody’s jockeying to be the alternative to Bernie Sanders,” he said.

And President Donald Trump’s campaign signaled they intend to label the Democratic nominee a socialist, even if it isn’t the ultra liberal Sanders.

“We don’t know who the eventual nominee will be, but they are all the same, and their radical big government socialist policies will be on the Democrat ballot in November no matter what,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in statement Saturday.

Read More: Buttigieg Executed His Strategy But He Still Isn’t Winning

But Theodore R. Johnson, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice who studies the effects of race on electoral politics, says Biden may not get as much of a boost out of South Carolina as some past Democratic candidates who did well with black voters, like Bill and Hillary Clinton.

He argued that was often because the field had typically narrowed much more dramatically by the time South Carolina voted.

“There probably won’t be one candidate that the black vote coalesces behind before Tuesday,” he said.

Biden’s road out of South Carolina comes with a big potential speed bump. Bloomberg, who is vying for the same moderate candidates, has invested heavily in Super Tuesday states.

Complicated Path

In South Carolina, Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar are polling were all performing well below the 15% threshold to win any of the 54 delegates, but plan to stay in the race in hopes of doing well in later states.

Addisu Demissie, a Democratic strategist who managed New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s failed presidential campaign, said that black voters will be more split during rest of the primary season, but he predicted they will come together behind the eventual nominee because of their opposition to President Donald Trump. But he said that Democrats still have work to do before November to keep them engaged.

“It only takes two or three out of a hundred black men to switch from Hillary to Trump or switch from Hillary to staying home to have a significant effect on the Electoral College,” he said.

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