Joe Biden scored a thundering victory Saturday in South Carolina’s Democratic primary on the strength of African American support, a decisive win that could force moderate rivals out of the race and blunt the rise of progressive leader Bernie Sanders.
Biden’s win came at a perilous moment in his 2020 bid as he needed an emphatic rebound after underwhelming performances this month in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. The race now pivots to the 14 states from Maine to California that vote on Tuesday in what effect will be a national primary.
“We are very much alive,” Biden declared at an exuberant post-election rally. “For all of you who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind — this is your campaign.”
Sanders claimed a distant second place, a loss that gave a momentary respite to anxious Democrats who feared that the democratic socialist would finish February with four consecutive top finishes that would make it difficult for anyone to overtake him.
The Associated Press declared Biden the winner just after the polls closed in South Carolina. The AP based the call on data from AP VoteCast, a survey of the electorate conducted for the AP by NORC at the University of Chicago. The survey showed a convincing win for Biden.
Even with the victory, the shortcomings of Biden’s campaign remain, including a lack of robust funding and organization, and he will face for the first time Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire who has spent more than $500 million advertising in the Super Tuesday states. Bloomberg announced his own plan to deliver a three-minute prime-time address Sunday night on two television networks. He didn’t say how much he paid for the air time, which is unprecedented in recent decades.
Biden is barely running any television advertising in Super Tuesday states. And both Sanders and Bloomberg have many more staff and volunteers.
But Biden is making an aggressive round of media appearances on Sunday in an effort to counter Bloomberg’s massive spending. He’s also working to secure endorsements from prominent Democrats and, shortly after the Saturday results were in, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe backed Biden.
The South Carolina primary was the first major test of the candidates’ appeal among black voters. That courtship will continue on Sunday when many of the White House hopefuls travel to Selma, Alabama, to participate in ceremonies commemorating civil rights heroism.
A number of states that vote on Super Tuesday, including Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, have substantial black populations.
One of the candidates who spent recent weeks wooing black voters, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, ended his campaign on Saturday after a disappointing third place finish. He spent more than $24 million on television advertising in South Carolina — more than all of his rivals combined — but never found a clear lane in the crowded contest.
Seven candidates remain in the Democrats’ quest to find the strongest possible nominee to take on President Donald Trump in November. They spent Saturday assessing the impact of Biden’s win.
Aides to Bloomberg’s campaign said they still believe the former New York mayor can win in a handful of states that vote on Super Tuesday, including Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia and North Carolina.
And Sanders was already looking ahead to the next contests as well, betting he can amass an insurmountable delegate lead. After two consecutive victories and a tie for the lead in Iowa, the 78-year-old Vermont senator’s confidence has surged.
Sanders congratulated Biden on his first win and said it was nothing for his own supporters to worry about.
“That will not be the only defeat. A lot of states in this country. Nobody wins them all,” he told a cheering crowd in Virginia. “Now we enter Super Tuesday.”
Pressure is building on lower performing candidates including former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to justify staying in the race. None gave any indication on Saturday that they would exit before Tuesday.
Through four contests, Sanders has a healthy, but shrinking, delegate lead.
The AP has allocated at least 54 delegates to Sanders with a few more expected as South Carolina’s remaining votes dribble in. Biden vaulted past Buttigieg into second place with at least 44 delegates and he’s likely to get several more. Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar remain stuck at 26, eight and seven, respectively.