Biden sets sights on Super Tuesday after big win in South Carolina primary

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden reacts on stage with his wife Jill Biden after declaring victory in the South Carolina presidential primary on February 29, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden reacts on stage with his wife Jill Biden after declaring victory in the South Carolina presidential primary on February 29, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. © Spencer Platt, Getty Images/AFP

Former US vice president Joe Biden won the South Carolina primaries by a huge margin, his first primary victory and a chance at beating rival Bernie Sanders to the Democratic ticket for the 2020 presidential race.


Biden scored 48.5% of the vote. Sanders came in second with 19.9%, and billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer placed third with 11.4%.

With a total of 54 South Carolina delegates in the offing, Biden picked up 36 to Sanders’ 11, with the remainder uncommitted. Under primary rules, any given candidate, regardless of ranking, must win at least 15% of the vote in each delegate pool to win any delegates at all. Only Biden and Sanders managed to meet that threshold in South Carolina.

The vote marked Biden’s first primary victory of the election season, as well as the last major event on the election calendar before the crucially decisive Super Tuesday, which falls on March 3, on which primaries take place in 14 US States as well as American Samoa, and Democrats Abroad.

Biden’s win came at a do-or-die moment in his 2020 bid as the moderate Democrat bounced back from lacklustre performances in the three previous primaries -- Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

"For all of those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind - this is your campaign," Biden told a victory party in Columbia, South Carolina. “We need you, we want you, there’s a place for you in this campaign. If Democrats nominate me, I believe we can beat Donald Trump.”

In terms of the US Presidential election calendar, South Carolina is the first Southern US state to hold a primary, and it is generally considered a bellwether for how other southern states will vote in future primaries. It is also considered an indicator of a candidate’s overall popularity with African-American voters nationwide. Biden received a boost on Wednesday from the endorsement of James Clyburn, a South Carolina congressman and the highest-ranking African American in the House of Representatives, the US lower house.  

The polls also found about six out of 10 South Carolina voters said influential black congressman James Clyburn's endorsement of Biden on Wednesday was a factor in their decision.

Exit polls showed Biden beating Sanders among a broad range of demographic and ideological groups, including those who identified themselves as "very liberal"--a surprise, since it was assumed that the far-left would uniformly support Sanders, a self-described Social Democrat.

Biden’s allies almost immediately cast the South Carolina victory as proof that he should stand as the clear alternative to Sanders.

Steyer bows out

After exit poll results had environmentalist candidate Tom Steyer coming in third, the latter announced he was ending his bid for the Democratic ticket and pulling out of the presidential race. In South Carolina, the billionaire activist had spent more than $19 million on television advertising — more than all the other candidates combined.

South Carolina was his strongest showing yet in a 2020 Democratic nominating contest, but he was far behind winner Joe Biden and second-place finisher Bernie Sanders.

"Honestly, I can't see a path where I can win the presidency," Steyer told supporters in South Carolina.

"I love you very much, this has been a great experience, I have zero regrets. Meeting you and the people of America has been a highlight of my life."

The 62-year-old former hedge fund manager from San Francisco portrayed himself as a political outsider and blasted corporate money in U.S. politics in July, when he joined a field of two dozen Democrats seeking to deny US President Donald Trump a second term.

Sanders focusing on Super Tuesday

Sanders was spending the lead-up to Super Tuesday campaigning in the home states of two major Democratic rivals, betting he can score a double knockout blow — or at least limit the size of their victories.

In a power play, Sanders hosted a midday rally Saturday in downtown Boston, campaigning in the heart of liberal ally Elizabeth Warren’s political turf. Addressing a crowd of thousands on the Boston Common, Sanders said his success in the Democratic primary means “the establishment is getting very nervous” — but he never predicted victory in South Carolina.

Sanders congratulated Biden on his first win and said it was nothing for his own supporters to worry about.

“Tonight, we did not win in South Carolina. That will not be the only defeat. A lot of states in this country. Nobody wins them all,” he told a cheering crowd in Virginia, one of 14 states to vote next week. “Now we enter Super Tuesday.”

After two consecutive victories and a tie for the lead in Iowa, his confidence is surging.

Biden’s second wind

Saturday was all about Biden and whether he might convince anxious establishment Democrats to rally behind him at last.

Elected officials inclined to embrace his moderate politics had been reluctant to support him after bad finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire and a distant second place in Nevada last week. Yet fearing Sanders’ polarizing progressive priorities, they’re still searching for an alternative who’s viewed as a safer bet to defeat Trump in November.

Senior Biden adviser Symone Sanders called South Carolina a “springboard” for the campaign, on par with how the state boosted the presidential aspirations of Barack Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 2016.

‘A long way to go’

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez cautioned Democrats that it’s still early in their presidential primary.

Speaking at a North Carolina Democratic Party fundraising gala, Perez noted that to win the nomination, a Democrat must win 1,991 delegates — and only a fraction of those have been allocated in the party’s first four primaries.

“We have a long way to go,” Perez said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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