Joe Biden wins big in South Carolina primary

Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Second Lady Jill Biden speak to supporters Feb. 3 in Des Moines after the Iowa Democratic caucuses. 

Jake Webster

Over the course of three presidential campaigns across 32 years, Joe Biden had never won a presidential primary contest. That changed with his easy victory late Saturday in South Carolina.

“For all of those, you’ve been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign,” Biden said to supporters in South Carolina. “Just days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this candidacy dead. Now thanks to all of you — the heart of the Democratic party — we’ve just won and we won big because of you. And we are very much alive.”

The former vice president led every South Carolina poll of the 2020 cycle, though he experienced a late scare with his advantage briefly narrowing just after Bernie Sanders’ commanding victory in the Nevada caucuses.

Biden’s strong win in South Carolina followed a disappointing fourth place finish in the Iowa caucuses and a fifth place finish in the New Hampshire primary. He rebounded with a second place showing in the Nevada caucuses, and his South Carolina victory came with support across all demographic groups. A majority of the state’s Democratic primary voters were African American, the former vice president won 61 percent of their votes, according to an exit poll published by the Washington Post.

“The South Carolina primary is different than the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary due to the fact that it has a more diverse population,” said Jim McCormick, professor of political science. “While the Nevada caucuses had a larger Latino [and] African American population that the first two elections, South Carolina will have about a 60 percent African American [Democratic primary electorate].”

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Biden had received 48.4 percent of the vote, trailed by Bernie Sanders with 19.9 percent, Tom Steyer with 11.3 percent, Pete Buttigieg with 8.2 percent, Elizabeth Warren with 7.1 percent, Amy Klobuchar with 3.1 percent and Tulsi Gabbard with 1.3 percent.

Steyer, who made combating climate change the focus of his campaign, dropped out of the race following his performance in South Carolina.

“I said if I didn’t see a path to winning, then I’d suspend my campaign, and honestly, I can’t see a path where I can win the presidency,” Steyer said to supporters in South Carolina. “So [I am] going to continue to work on every single one of these issues.”

The South Carolina primary took place just three days before the Super Tuesday contests across 14 states, when 34 percent of delegates to this summer’s Democratic National Convention will be pledged to presidential candidates.

“I believe that the candidates that do well in the South Carolina primary will seek to use it as a launching pad for greater support in the 14 contests on March 3,” McCormick said. “Because the time is so short from the conclusion of the South Carolina [primary] to Super Tuesday, it is hard to imagine that the South Carolina results will be decisive elsewhere. Moreover, most of the candidates are already campaigning in the Super Tuesday states.”

Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and Klobuchar were not present in South Carolina as results from the state’s primary rolled in, instead they spent Saturday campaigning in other Super Tuesday states. Biden was set to leave South Carolina after his victory party and head to Alabama and Virginia on Sunday to campaign ahead of their votes on Super Tuesday.