Biden Has Limited Time to Leverage South Carolina Win

Crush of Super Tuesday contests will test depth of support and resources for Democratic field

South Carolina was Joe Biden’s first win in a state nominating contest over the course of three presidential bids.

Photo: Victor J. Blue for The Wall Street Journal

Joe Biden got what he desperately needed: a massive win in South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary. But the question remains whether it is enough to reboot a campaign that has struggled.

2020欧洲杯APPJust three days separate South Carolina from the potentially decisive coast-to-coast wave of primaries in 14 states on Super Tuesday, so named because more than a third of delegates to the party’s national convention will be in play on a single day.

South Carolina was Mr. Biden’s first win in a state nominating contest over the course of three presidential bids, and the former vice president’s victory was powered by strong support from black voters.


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Mr. Biden, who headed to South Carolina earlier this month to fire up his campaign there even before polls closed in New Hampshire’s primary, was rewarded for his commitment.

Mr. Biden was winning by an even larger margin than the one Sen. Bernie Sanders scored a week earlier in Nevada, the first contest in a state more representative of the nation’s racial and ethnic diversity. The former vice president was followed by Mr. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont, and billionaire Tom Steyer.

Mr. Steyer said Saturday night that he would drop out of the race after spending more than any other candidate—more than $22 million—on South Carolina advertising.

Mr. Biden’s campaign had long viewed South Carolina as a firewall if things didn’t go well—as they didn’t for him—in the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

2020欧洲杯APPHis strong support among black voters was the key. They represented 57% of the electorate and Mr. Biden received support from 61%, .

Former Vice President Joe Biden got his first opportunity on Saturday, in South Carolina, to deliver a victory speech in his quest for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Photo: Victor J. Blue for The Wall Street Journal

Some other key takeaways and what they might mean for Super Tuesday:

Sanders Struggles With Southern Black Voters

The South Carolina results and exit polls showed Mr. Sanders continues to struggle to win support from Southern and rural black voters.

In his 2016 South Carolina primary loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Sanders won the support of just 14% of the state’s black voters. As the national front-runner on Saturday, he did only slightly better, at 16%.

That presents a cautionary note for Democrats assessing the field of candidates in a party where strong support from blacks and Hispanics is critical for success.

Mr. Sanders continued to dominate the youngest voters, securing 43% to Mr. Biden’s 27% among that group. Among voters 65 and older, Mr. Biden dominated Mr. Sanders, 65% to 10%.

In Allendale County, home to the state’s largest proportion of nonwhite voters, Mr. Biden won 58.3% with all precincts reporting. He was followed by Mr. Steyer at 25.4% and Mr. Sanders at 12.6%. Pete Buttigieg, the only remaining candidate in the field who actually visited the county seat there and someone who has struggled to attract black voters, received just 1%.

2020欧洲杯APPIt was hard to determine whether Mr. Sanders got a boost from President Trump’s suggestions that Republicans vote for the Vermont senator.

Exit polls show 5% of those who voted in the Democratic primary identified themselves as Republicans, but their numbers were so small that the survey couldn’t say who they supported. In 2016, when there was also a Republican primary in South Carolina, 3% of Democratic primary voters said they were Republicans.

The Field Isn’t Shrinking Much Just Yet

2020欧洲杯APPMr. Biden’s strong showing in South Carolina came at the expense of other moderate candidates. Finishing well behind him were Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.

Minnesota is a Super Tuesday state and Ms. Klobuchar remaining in the contest and being competitive there could help hold down the delegates Mr. Sanders might win there.

The former vice president’s campaign hopes the victory will position him as the top alternative to Mr. Sanders. The Vermont senator has benefited from a field that is crowded with moderate candidates who have divvied up the support of voters seeking a more centrist alternative.

2020欧洲杯APPBut the short time before Super Tuesday offers little reason for any of the other more moderate candidates to quit the race before then.

All of the remaining candidates are showing signs that they intend to gut it out until Tuesday, even if their campaign finances and political energy are running on fumes. They have events and advertising buys scheduled in many of the Super Tuesday states.

Mr. Biden has the smallest total advertising buys in place in the 14 Super Tuesday states among the candidates who appeared with him on Tuesday’s debate stage in South Carolina, according to data from ad tracker Kantar/CMAG.

His victory comes as early voting is already under way in several of the states holding the next contests, including the biggest delegate prizes of California and Texas.

Mr. Biden and the rest of the Democratic field now must also more directly face billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who will be on the ballot as a presidential candidate for the first time starting with the Super Tuesday states.

The former New York City mayor has spent more than half a billion dollars on advertising alone for his White House bid and is more organized in March primary states than all of his competitors, except for perhaps Mr. Sanders.

No Warren Debate Bump

2020欧洲杯APPThe campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has said it saw increased support and fundraising for her bid after an aggressive debate performance in Nevada that left Mr. Bloomberg wounded. She remained feisty in Tuesday’s debate in South Carolina, taking swipes at Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Sanders.

Her showing in South Carolina suggests her debate performances alone won’t be enough to catch Mr. Sanders in the party’s progressive lane. Among those who consider themselves “very liberal,” Mr. Sanders had more than twice as much support in South Carolina as Ms. Warren.

Mr. Sanders spent part of his weekend campaigning in Massachusetts, a Super Tuesday state. Ms. Warren faces the potential threat of an embarrassing loss on her home turf, .

Write to John McCormick at

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