Is it The Comeback Kid or The Empire Strikes Back? Former Vice President Joe Biden was the overwhelming winner of the South Carolina Democratic Party primary on Feb. 29: the contest on which he had staked the very viability of his campaign. The decisive victory allows him to move into the Super Tuesday contests with a chance to cement himself as the only plausible challenger to democratic socialist and current Dem frontrunner, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
“We are very much alive,” a jubilant Biden told supporters after his win became obvious. “To all those who have been knocked down, counted out, and left behind — this is your campaign.”
Establishment Democrats have been openly pining for an alternative to the stridently progressive Sanders, and the question now is whether South Carolina is a signal that the previously stumbling Biden can fill that spot – or was the Palmetto State result more of a check on Sanders. In any event, the boost Biden takes with him will surely damage the campaigns of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Pete Buttigieg, both of whom were hoping a fading Biden would open a lane for them among party moderates. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was once again not on the ballot in South Carolina and is staking his electoral prospects on a stellar Super Tuesday performance, most significantly in large states such as Texas and California.
Taking Charge in the Center?
“Today is a great day because I’ll tell you what, the full comeback starts in South Carolina and we’re going to win South Carolina and the next step is North Carolina,” Biden told a crowd of supporters before voting had concluded. “We’re going to win here as well and then it’s a straight path to the nomination for president of the United States of America.”
Biden lapped the field, accruing 50% of the vote with just half of the results reported. Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) all languished far behind in the single digits. Sanders was on pace for a solid second-place finish but cannot downplay the fact that he lagged way behind Barack Obama’s former second in command.
Biden’s “I can win” message, which seemed to become more dicey with every public gaffe he committed on the campaign trail, will receive new vigor from this victory, and that could prove the death knell for a rival like Klobuchar, who tried to steer a centrist course but has failed to generate momentum among primary voters. South Carolina is a double whammy for the flagging Minnesota senator, who underperformed yet again while the pre-ordained establishment favorite surged.
Biden’s argument that he can attract black and other minority voters in states such as South Carolina is also further buttressed, and this represents a severe blow to Buttigieg, who is lacking in this department. A CNN exit poll showed 60% of black Democrat voters choosing Biden in South Carolina, with a paltry 3% opting for Buttigieg.
Firebrand Sen. Warren, who has dominated much of the conversation at the primary debates with little to show for it, defiantly shrugged off her latest weak performance in an address to backers in Houston.
“I will be the first to say that the first four contests haven’t gone exactly as I hoped,” Warren said, adopting a somewhat formulaic demeanor. “If you want to change the outcome in the next contest, go to elizabethwarren.com, chip in now, get involved, Super Tuesday’s three days away.”
“My campaign is built for the long haul,” Warren once again stated, pointing to coming primaries as she turned away from her latest disappointment.
Billionaire Tom Steyer spent heavily on television advertising in South Carolina. It seems to have netted him a third-place finish, which was not going to do much to advance his candidacy. Before the final vote tally was complete, Steyer announced his withdrawal from the primary contest.
The evening belonged to Biden, and it will take only a couple of days to find out how much mileage his first primary win will provide him.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.