Former Vice President Joe Biden has overwhelmingly won the South Carolina Democratic primary, reviving his faltering campaign and building momentum going into next week’s crucial Super Tuesday race, when 14 states hold nominating contests.
After Biden’s poor showings in the first three Democratic party nominating contests, analysts predicted his presidential campaign would be over if he did not win big in South Carolina, where he was heavily favored based on his strong support from African Americans who make up a large percentage of state Democratic voters.
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Not only did Biden beat Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who came into the South Carolina race as the national front-runner, but he did so handily, showing voters he still has the ability to mount a credible challenge in the battle to become the party's nominee to face President Donald Trump in November.
Biden had won nearly 50% of the vote. Sanders was in a distant second place, with 19%. Tom Steyer, a billionaire and philanthropist who has invested substantial time and money campaigning in South Carolina, was in third place, with 11% of the vote.
Steyer suspended his campaign following the results.
Biden told a jubilant crowd of supporters in Columbia, S.C., Saturday night, “For all of you who have been knocked down ... and counted out, this is your campaign.
“We are very much alive,” he added.
President Trump weighed in on the results on Twitter. "Congratulations to Sleepy Joe Biden," he said.
Exit polling, taken before polls closed Saturday, showed Biden won strong support from black voters, people older than 45 and self-described moderates.
South Carolina was considered Biden’s “firewall” because of the large percentage of African American voters who have long been loyal to the former vice president who served under Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected president.
The polling by Edison Research found that nearly 8 out of 10 primary voters in South Carolina had a favorable view of Biden.
It also showed that about 6 in 10 voters said influential South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden was a factor in their decision of how to vote. Biden received a much-needed boost Wednesday when Clyburn endorsed him.
The South Carolina primary, the first Southern state to vote in the Democratic nominating contest, provided the first substantial indication of how well candidates are performing among African American voters, a critical Democratic constituency that makes up about 60% of South Carolina’s Democratic electorate, and 27% of the state’s population.
Exit polls showed that more than half of the Democratic primary voters Saturday were African American. However, that is down slightly from the number of African American primary voters in the state in 2016.
Biden, who was the early Democratic front-runner, stumbled in the first three primary and caucus contests, finishing fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and a distant second in Nevada. He has struggled to raise money and spark enthusiasm among rank-and-file Democrats.
After Biden’s victory Saturday, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe endorsed the former vice president. McAuliffe said he would campaign with Biden in Virginia Beach Sunday.
Sanders, an independent senator and self-described democratic socialist, had come into South Carolina as the national front-runner after securing a close second-place finish in Iowa and victories in New Hampshire and Nevada. The races Super Tuesday will show whether Biden’s victory in South Carolina has halted Sander’s momentum.
Other Democratic candidates who received votes Saturday were former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who took 8% of the vote in early results. Senator Elizabeth Warren received 7%, Senator Amy Klobuchar 3% and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard 1%.
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg was again, by choice, absent from the ballot in South Carolina after also skipping the first three nominating contests. Exit polling Saturday showed he had the lowest favorability rating among voters in South Carolina, with only about a quarter viewing him favorably.
Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, faces his first test during Super Tuesday.
A number of states with considerable African American populations will hold primaries Super Tuesday, when more than one-third of all delegates for the Democratic National Convention in July are at stake. Democratic candidates are seeking to win the nomination in their quest to derail President Donald Trump’s reelection bid in the November general election.
South Carolina held an open primary that allowed registered voters to cast ballots in the primary of their choice. The state Republican Party canceled its primary, ceding the contest to Trump. The cancellation prompted some Republicans, who greatly outnumber Democrats in the state, to say they would vote for Sanders in the Democratic primary, believing he would be easier for Trump to defeat in November.
There are 54 pledged delegates at stake in South Carolina’s Democratic primary who will be proportionately divided among the candidates who exceed a 15% threshold of the total votes cast.