Former Vice President Joe Biden on February 29 decisively won the South Carolina primary as the first Southern primary contest reshaped the race and dealt a blow to the surging candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. The win pumped new life into Biden’s struggling campaign, as he became the first candidate to score a clear-cut victory against Sanders this year, boosting his efforts to become the major alternative to the liberal senator. Still, Sanders is polling strongly in several of the Super Tuesday states that vote this week, and it could yet prove difficult for any of his competitors to catch up. At a minimum, Democrats now face the most unsettled contest in decades, with several candidates showing the potential to win delegates after the winnowing process of the first four primary states. The Democratic race goes national on March 2, when 14 states and one territory will vote to award 34 percent of the convention delegates. What’s not clear is whether Biden’s triumph in a state supporters have long called his “firewall,” where African American voters had a significant say for the first time, will provide only a momentary lift, result in a two-person race between Biden and Sanders, or result in a long slog to the convention.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s resounding victory in the South Carolina primary was a major win for a politician who has been in public life for nearly 50 years, and his first primary victory in his three presidential runs. Cheers went up at a Biden election-night rally in Columbia when MSNBC called the race, Biden cast the win as the first of many number of dominoes that will now fall his way, noting that some were counting him out just days ago. “Now, thanks to all of you — the heart of the Democratic Party — we just won and we won big . . . and we are very much alive,” Biden said in a victory speech that was pointed directly at Sanders. “We have the option of winning big or losing big. That’s our choice,” Biden told a raucous crowd in Columbia. “We have to beat Donald Trump and the Republican Party, but here’s the deal: We can’t become like them. . . . We can’t have a never-ending war.” The Biden campaign hopes to use Saturday’s win to consolidate support from many of his rivals, hoping that several drop out, which one of them, businessman Tom Steyer, did shortly after the polls closed. “Honestly, I can’t see a path where I can win the presidency,” Steyer said in announcing his decision. Biden also plans a series of high-profile endorsements over the coming days. Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe announced shortly after Biden’s win that they were backing the former vice president. Nearly half of South Carolina voters said Congressman James Clyburn’s (D-SC) final-week endorsement of Biden was an important factor in their vote, according to exit poll results from Edison Research.
Bernie Sanders, speaking at a February 28 rally in Virginia sought to put the results in perspective, ticking off his previous strong performances in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. “But you cannot win ’em all . . . and tonight we did not win in South Carolina,” Sanders said. “And that will not be the only defeat. There are a lot of states in this country, and nobody wins them all.” After congratulating Biden, he proclaimed, “And now we enter Super Tuesday — and Virginia!” For all the candidates but Sanders, a further winnowing of the field is crucial to winning the nomination. Sanders is broadly expected to come out of Super Tuesday with a substantial delegate lead in the race, anchored in his huge polling advantage in California. Under party rules, such leads can be difficult to overcome as the race moves on.
With most precincts reporting, Joe Biden was poised to win about half the vote, giving him a symbolic victory over Bernie Sanders, who did not win more than 34% of the vote in any of the first three states. Under party rules, nominees need to secure more than 50 percent of delegates to win the nomination at the convention in Milwaukee. But the continued viability of so many candidates has increased the likelihood that no candidate will be able to secure such a victory with initially pledged delegates alone, setting up the potential for either a brokered convention or a pre-convention horse-trading of delegates by the candidates. Complicating the hunt for the nomination is former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars advertising his candidacy to the Super Tuesday states, after deciding not to compete in the first four contests. Although his rise in polls had slowed since his first debate performance, Bloomberg still appears positioned to win delegates in many early states, as he continues to swamp his rivals in spending. His advisers vowed Saturday night that Bloomberg will stay in the race at least through Super Tuesday when he will appear on the ballot for the first time. They cited internal campaign data showing that if Bloomberg dropped out it would strengthen Sanders, whose left-leaning policies the former mayor abhors “Mike Bloomberg has not been on the ballot yet,” said Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey. “Our campaign is focused on organizing Democrats and building infrastructure in states all around the country.”
After Saturday’s outcome became clear, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Sleepy Joe Biden’s victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary should be the end of Mini Mike Bloomberg’s Joke of a campaign.” Biden’s support among black voters, who made up most of the electorate in South Carolina, appeared ready to lift a campaign that has struggled to find its footing for more than a year. Biden, a national polling leader in 2019, finished in fourth place in Iowa, fifth place in New Hampshire and second place in Nevada. African American voters have been a crucial part of the Democratic Party Coalition since the New Deal era, and Biden, along with other Sanders critics, have argued that it will be hard for the Democratic nominee to defeat Trump if he does not have enthusiastic support from the black community. Sanders has replied that he alone among the Democratic contenders has shown the ability to electrify voters and draw big crowds from a broad portion of the electorate.