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US Presidential elections 2020: Joe Biden wins South Carolina primary

Bloomberg Washington DC/Columbia (SC) | Updated on March 01, 2020 Published on March 01, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during a primary night rally in Columbia, South Carolina, US, on Saturday, February 29, 2020.   -  Bloomberg

Joe Biden’s dominating win in the South Carolina presidential primary gives him a much-needed springboard into ‘Super Tuesday’, but with three days to go, there’s still a question whether that will be enough to slow Bernie Sanders’ momentum.

With most precincts reporting, Biden had 48.6 per cent of the vote to Sanders’ 20 per cent. That result assures Biden the lion’s share of the delegates in the largest and most diverse state on the Democratic calendar to date.

It was Biden’s first primary win in three campaigns for the presidency. And for one night at least, it allowed him to stake his claim to being the strongest moderate contender in the race and also the one best positioned to stop Sanders.

“If the Democrats want a nominee who’s a Democrat, a lifelong Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat — then join us,” Biden said to cheers in Columbia, South Carolina.

Sanders is a democratic socialist who serves in the US Senate as an independent, and one other moderate contender, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, is a former Republican.

In many ways, it was the kind of win Biden has promised to deliver all along during the primary season, as he campaigned hard on his claim of being the best candidate to defeat President Donald Trump. Losses in the first three states dimmed his appeal — leading some to write him off as a beloved but diminished figure whose best days were behind him.

After Saturday’s commanding victory, there was a sense that party insiders and others would give him a fresh look, and his win could put pressure on Bloomberg to reconsider his candidacy.

Tom Steyer drops out

Billionaire Tom Steyer dropped out of the race after finishing under 12 per cent in early vote counts. He had invested millions in the state, seeing it as his best chance to win delegates and remain a fixture in the debates.

Still, Biden’s euphoria may well be short-lived as the race explodes across 14 States from coast-to-coast Tuesday, including the top prize of California, where Sanders remains strong. Polls show that Biden is ahead in North Carolina, and is gaining in Virginia, but Sanders is leading in at least a half-dozen.

Biden also is far behind Sanders and Bloomberg in cash-on-hand and on-the-ground organisation across the map.

Biden hopes to collect delegates in places similar to South Carolina, where half the Democratic primary electorate is African-American and where Biden won 60 per cent of those voters, according to network exit polls. Super Tuesday features several of those states, including North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas.

In Texas, the second-biggest delegate prize, Biden is a close second to Sanders and likely to gain delegates.

Sanders’ substantial defeat came as Democrats worry the Vermont senator could not beat Trump in the general election. Exit polls in South Carolina showed that Biden was favoured by 39 per cent of voters who called themselves very liberal, suggesting a possible weakness in Sanders’ argument that a progressive can win over the nation.

Biden’s tenure as President Barack Obama’s loyal running mate and vice president certainly helped, as did the endorsement of South Carolina’s respected Democratic congressman, James Clyburn. Nearly half of South Carolina voters said Clyburn’s endorsement was a factor in their vote.

Should Bloomberg drop out?

Biden’s bigger-than-expected victory and Steyer’s departure also inspired new talk of whether Bloomberg should rethink his campaign, given that he could split delegates with Biden. That could help Sanders go the party’s nominating convention in Milwaukee in July with a plurality of delegates, which would increase pressure on the party to give him the nomination. Bloomberg skipped the first four contests, including South Carolina, and will first appear on ballots on Tuesday.

Biden supporters wasted no time ramping up their calls for the former New York mayor to end his campaign, launched at a moment when Biden seemed particularly weak, and turn the primaries into a Biden-versus-Sanders battle.

“Given both his early debate performances and the polling at this point, Bloomberg should reconsider how best to achieve his goal of ensuring Trump is defeated this fall,” said Senator Chris Coons, an early Biden supporter from his home state of Delaware. “The most likely impact of having several moderates competing for votes on Super Tuesday is to dilute their appeal, even though a majority of voters in all four of the early voting states supported a moderate candidate.”

Bloomberg’s camp was having none of it, noting that Bloomberg has not been on a single ballot yet, as part of his strategy of focusing on ‘Super Tuesday’. “We look forward to Tuesday,” Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement. “Mike’s record of successfully leading and managing through crises and challenges is exactly what Americans are looking for in a new President.”

Bloomberg has purchased two three-minute television ads at a cost of up to $2 million each to contrast his handling of the 9/11 aftermath and Hurricane Sandy with the way Trump is managing the coronavirus crisis.

Bloomberg spoke at a North Carolina Democratic dinner for 20 minutes on Saturday, without mentioning the South Carolina results.

Early trends

Early Associated Press projections showed that Biden would get at least 28 of South Carolina’s 54 delegates, catapulting him into second place behind Sanders in the overall tally. A candidate needs 1,991 delegates to win the Democratic nomination on the first ballot.

South Carolina’s importance is heightened by its spot on the calendar, with its polls closing 60 hours before the polls open on ‘Super Tuesday’ in 14 states and one territory. But the largest of those states California and Texas are favorable to Sanders.

Biden led national polls from the moment he got in the race last year, helped by strong name recognition and a sense that he could beat Trump. But that sheen of inevitability was battered by a fourth-place finish in Iowa, then fifth-place in New Hampshire. Sanders passed him in the polls and won Nevada, with Biden coming in second.

Reversing that momentum will be difficult, if not impossible. Since 1980, no candidate has lost an early polling lead and then regained it to win the nomination.

Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott and the State’s former governor Terry McAuliffe have announced their endorsements of Biden, just after the polls closed in South Carolina. Virginia votes on Tuesday.

“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.

Trump’s campaign signalled they intend to label the Democratic nominee a socialist, even if it is not self-described democratic socialist 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.

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.

False starts

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. Bloomberg is not even competing in South Carolina, but has spent a staggering $538 million of his own money to campaign in ‘Super Tuesday’ States.

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 is leading in western states like California and Colorado and northeastern states like Massachusetts and Maine on Super Tuesday, and he is ahead in national polls by double digits.

Complicated path

In South Carolina, Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar were all performing well below the 15 per cent 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 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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Published on March 01, 2020
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