The Democrats’ 2020 nominating fight turned to South Carolina on Saturday for the first-in-the-South primary, with Joe Biden confident that his popularity with black voters will seal him a victory and help blunt some of front-runner Bernie Sanders’ momentum.
There were no early reports of voting problems after polls opened across the state at 7 a.m.
The primary stands as the first marker on a critical four-day stretch that will help determine whether the party rallies behind Sanders or embraces a longer and uglier slog that could carry on until the national convention.
“Only two things are going to happen: either Bernie or brokered,” said James Carville, a veteran Democratic strategist.
Carville is uncomfortable with a Sanders nomination but fears that a brokered convention — in which party bosses or delegates in floor fights and negotiations decide the nominee after no candidate amasses enough delegates in the primary — would inflict serious damage on the party, as well. “It’s just hard for me to see beyond the two options,” he said.
In Saturday’s primary, Biden and his establishment allies hope to slow Sanders’ rise — and change the trajectory of the race — with a convincing victory demonstrating his strength among African Americans. Visiting a polling place in Greenville early Saturday, Biden said he felt good about his prospects.
“It’d be a good start to get into Super Tuesday and do really well,” Biden told reporters. “Look, I’m very optimistic. I’m optimistic not just about today; I’m optimistic about the whole process.”
But just three days after South Carolina, Sanders believes he’s positioned to seize a major delegate advantage when 14 states and one U.S. territory vote on “Super Tuesday.”
After two consecutive victories and a tie for the lead in Iowa, the 78-year-old Vermont senator’s confidence is surging.
Sanders will spend 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 will host a midday rally Saturday in downtown Boston, campaigning in the heart of progressive ally Elizabeth Warren’s political turf. And on the eve of Super Tuesday, Sanders will host a concert in Minnesota, where home-state Sen. Amy Klobuchar is looking for her first win.
Senior adviser Jeff Weaver said Sanders is aggressively hunting for delegates, noting that their campaign’s experience during the 2016 primary against Hillary Clinton taught them that any candidate who finishes Super Tuesday with a significant delegate advantage will be difficult to catch.
“I’m confident we’re going to do very, very well across the country,” Weaver said of the coming four days. He also sought to downplay the importance of South Carolina, where “Biden is expected to win.”