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Joe Biden Triumphs in the South Carolina Primary — Can He Capitalize On The Momentum?

With an apparent romp in the Palmetto State, the former vice president’s 2020 candidacy gets a major jolt

Joe Biden Wins the South Carolina Primary

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill Biden, speaks at a primary night election rally in Columbia, S.C.

Gerald Herbert/AP/Shutterstock

My brain: Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say it.

Me: JOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOEMENTUM!!!

Sound the starting pistol, the former vice president of the United States has secured his long-prophesied victory in the South Carolina primary, according to network projections, may now begin his classic car cruise to the Democratic nominating convention in Milwaukee… Well, “cruise” may be overstating it, but Joe Biden’s candidacy, which would likely not have survived a decisive loss in the state, now has at least a fighting shot. And, in all seriousness, a big, earnest congrats to Biden, who 32 years after declaring his first candidacy for president, has at long last won a real, live primary contest. 

With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, it appears Biden will put-put-put out of the Palmetto state with nearly half of the overall vote: 48.6 percent. The former Delaware senator is trailed by Bernie Sanders with 19 percent, and Tom Steyer with 11. Pete Buttigieg (8 percent) and Elizabeth Warren (7 percent) and Amy Klobuchar (3 percent) bring up the rear. Biden is on track to collect 29 delegates from the contest, putting him in second place heading into Super Tuesday. Sanders, who remains in first place in the delegate count, is poised to add 9 more delegates to his existing 45. 

Declaring victory, Biden told an excited crowd in South Carolina, “For all those of you who’ve been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign! 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 just won and we’ve won big because of you. We are very much alive!”

Biden then addressed Democrats across America: “This is the moment to choose a path forward for our party,” he said. “This is the moment and it’s arrived — maybe sooner than anyone guessed it would, but it’s here. The decisions Democrats make all across America in the next few days will determine what this party stands for, what we believe, and what we’ll get done. If Democrats nominate me, I believe we can beat Donald Trump.”

He also took a shot at Bernie Sanders, saying, “And if the Democrats want a nominee who’s a Democrat — a lifelong Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat — then join us.”

Saturday’s news out of South Carolina is great for Biden — the networks called his victory with none of the official vote tally yet recorded — and it had to be. After placing fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and a distant second in Nevada, this was a must-win contest for the race’s one-time frontrunner. The victory in the first state with significant African American voter participation gives Biden bragging rights that he’s the best candidate to rebuild the Obama coalition and counter the Bernie Sanders surge.

Biden was the runaway favorite of African American voters in South Carolina who made up more than half of voters and backed the former vice president with 60 percent support, compared to just 17 percent for Sanders, according to exit poll data. While Sanders beat Biden handily among voters under thirty years old (46-to-24 percent), Biden cleaned up among older voters, and those over 45 made up nearly 70 percent of the electorate.

Although South Carolina should prove a springboard for Biden, he’s not got much time to capitalize on the momentum, with just two full days before the elections of Super Tuesday, when 1,357 delegates are up for grabs in 14 states, one territory and the “Democrats Abroad” primary. As of Saturday night, though, he has one less competitor jockeying for votes — Tom Steyer announced he was dropping out of the Democratic primary after his third-place finish in South Carolina, admitting, “Honestly, I can’t see a path where I win the presidency… This has been a great experience and I have zero regrets.”

Biden’s victory cuts several ways. Bernie Sanders’ momentum has been blunted for the moment, and his claims to be building a winning multi-racial coalition have been undercut. The case for Mike Bloomberg — who skipped the early contests and quite literally banked on Super Tuesday — is even more damaged. Bloomberg appeared to believe that Biden lacked the staying power to consolidate the moderate wing of the party in the early voting states, and that he could corral their support. Now, after having spent nearly $500 million of his own money, Bloomberg appears poised to play second fiddle to Biden, or worse from the billionaire’s perspective, to play spoiler to Biden’s prospects and help Sanders accumulate a sizable delegate lead.

If South Carolina is any indication, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar appear to be in trouble as the primary shifts into territory more diverse than Iowa and New Hampshire. Black voters in the state of South Carolina roundly rejected their candidacies, giving Buttigieg just three percent support and Klobuchar one percent.

Additional reporting by Tim Dickinson. This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

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