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Biden time

Joe Biden grabs a crucial win in the South Carolina primary and hopes to blunt Bernie Sanders ahead of Super Tuesday

Biden time

Sen. Bernie Sanders (left) and former Vice President Joe Biden on the debate stage in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday (Patrick Semansky/AP)

On the night before winning the Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina, Joe Biden was losing parts of a crowd at a campaign rally in Spartanburg.

Biden gave sprawling answers to audience questions, and small groups of onlookers drifted out of the gymnasium at Wofford College. Halfway through an especially prolonged monologue, the former vice president told the crowd: “Look, I know this is boring, but it’s important.” 

It was an honest but uninspiring line for a candidate betting his political future on his success in South Carolina.

Biden’s gamble paid off. After disappointing finishes in the first three Democratic contests of the year, Biden hit the jackpot in South Carolina: He defeated presumptive front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., by almost 30 percentage points Saturday night.

His landslide victory in South Carolina puts him second in the overall delegate count—at least for a couple more days. On Tuesday, voters in 14 states will head to the polls for a slate of nominating contests set to award 1,357 delegates. That’s more than a third of the party’s delegates. 

Polls show Sanders in a double-digit lead in California, the state with the most pledged delegates up for grabs at 415. Polls also show Sanders leading Biden by about 9 points in Texas, a state awarding 228 delegates. 

In at least a couple of other states, the contests appear much closer. Sanders narrowly leads Biden in North Carolina, with its 110 delegates. The margin is also close in Virginia, where former Gov. Terry McAuliffe endorsed Biden shortly after his victory in South Carolina on Saturday night.

McAuliffe said he waited to see which candidate would secure the most support from African American voters. About 60 percent of South Carolina’s Democratic primary voters are black, and early exit polls showed Biden winning six out of 10 African American voters. 

Just a few days earlier, Biden seemed doubtful about his prospects. After a pugilistic Democratic debate in Charleston on Tuesday night, most of the Democratic candidates showed up at a pastors’ breakfast Wednesday morning and addressed a mostly black audience. 

Biden had just secured a coveted endorsement from James Clyburn—a longtime Democratic congressman from South Carolina. But at the early morning event, Biden talked more about Clyburn than himself, and told him. “Even if I’m not around, you still have a lot of work to do.” 

In that moment, Biden knew he needed to win South Carolina to make a case for continuing in the primaries—but he also sounded like he needed a victory to want to continue in the race. 

Gerald Herbert/AP

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Conway, S.C. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

His decisive win may slow Sanders’ momentum, but the results on Super Tuesday will give a clearer picture of whether Biden’s bump makes a difference with enough voters to change the contour of the race.

Tuesday will also mark a crucial test for Michael Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor didn’t appear on the ballot in South Carolina and has put all his political eggs in the giant basket of Super Tuesday states. Without strong finishes in at least a couple of contests, the cracks in Bloomberg’s efforts will grow harder to ignore.

A slate of other Democratic candidates remains in the race. But they may soon face pressure to drop out, as billionaire businessman Tom Steyer did after Biden’s victory Saturday. Steyer placed a respectable third in the South Carolina contest, finishing just a few points behind Sanders. But he banked most of his hopes in the South Carolina contest and wasn’t polling well in other states.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, once the presumed front-runner for the nomination, finished in fifth place on Saturday night, just ahead of Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Still, there’s an important caveat on contenders’ minds: Democratic Party rules now award delegates proportionally—meaning no winner-take-all states allowing candidates to amass large delegate counts quickly. 

That may motivate candidates with a handful of delegates to stick around to see if they can rack up enough supporters to stay in the race—potentially blocking Sanders from securing enough delegates to secure the nomination ahead of the party’s nominating convention in July.

Pete Buttigieg eschewed that strategy: The former South Bend mayor placed fourth in the South Carolina contest and remained third in the overall delegate count. On Saturday night, he appeared to have 26 total delegates. Biden had at least 34 in the early count. (Sanders remained considerably ahead with at least 48 delegates.) 

The magic number to secure the nomination: 1,991.

But on Sunday evening, Buttigieg dropped out of the race, saying he would work to help unify the Democratic Party to defeat Trump.

In South Carolina, Buttigieg was among the candidates learning about the tough realities of retail politics. His campaign reported more than a thousand people gathered for a rally in South Carolina on the night before the primary, but a few days earlier Buttigieg met a far less friendly crowd at a McDonald’s in Charleston. 

A group of protesters demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage formed a picket line outside the restaurant, and Buttigieg decided to join. Some in the crowd were friendly, but others resented what they thought was a photo op for the candidate. About a dozen activists began chanting: “Pete can’t be our president!”

A video of the incident shows Buttigieg’s alarmed staffers hurriedly moving him toward a black SUV as a handful of protesters chased him away. Buttigieg jumped in and headed for another campaign stop but faced a question other Democratic contenders may soon contemplate: Which candidate will voters chase out of the race next?

Updates to this article clarify that Terry McAuliffe is the former governor of Virginia and show that Pete Buttigieg ended his campaign on Sunday.

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie is WORLD’s national editor based in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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    Posted: Mon, 03/02/2020 10:47 am

    Do you ever wonder who controls the count?

    Are they keeping Biden in the running for a reason?