COLUMBIA, South Carolina — President Joe Biden cruised to victory in the first sanctioned presidential primary Saturday night.
Biden easily beat out nominal challenges from Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and self-help author Marianne Williamson in a state that he placed atop the primary calendar and where he scored a crucial victory during his 2020 campaign.
Biden’s victory in South Carolina brings the campaign one step closer to the general election, which is expected to be one of the longest and most expensive in American political history. The Republican presidential primary in South Carolina will be held Feb. 24. Former President Donald Trump is the heavy favorite in that race.
Biden was hoping that South Carolina’s vote would help assuage concerns about Democratic enthusiasm and, more specifically, his standing with Black voters. And, to a large degree, he got what he wanted. Biden looked poised to swamp the competition with roughly 95 percent or more of the vote. Turnout was trending to be roughly around a quarter of the total votes cast four years ago, though that was a much more competitive race.
“People underestimated the strength of diverse and Black voters. Black people are tuned into this election,” said Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state representative.
Shortly after the race was called, Biden phoned Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) who was speaking to supporters at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s victory night event. Biden, who Clyburn put on speakerphone along with the microphone he was holding, expressed his thanks and asked about turnout.
The specifics of what he said were difficult for the audience to hear. The Biden campaign subsequently released a statement. “In 2020, it was the voters of South Carolina who proved the pundits wrong, breathed new life into our campaign, and set us on the path to winning the Presidency,” it read. “Now in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the Presidency again — and making Donald Trump a loser — again.”
Even though Biden’s victory was expected, the president’s campaign still sunk significant resources into the state, dispatching Vice President Kamala Harris four times to South Carolina in the last five weeks. The campaign also spent more than $400,000 on advertisements, hoping to amp up turnout.
In the end, though, the campaigns seemed to acknowledge that the outcome was preordained. Biden was in Southern California, not South Carolina, on primary night. Phillips, who spent all of $585 on digital ads in the state, was traveling from New York to Washington, D.C., on primary night, according to a campaign spokesperson.
Democrats, backed by Biden, reshuffled the presidential nominating calendar last year, elevating South Carolina to its first-in-the-nation status for the first time and centering Black voters earlier in the primary process. Nonetheless, New Hampshireheld its own unsanctioned Democratic primary last month, when a write-in campaign for Biden won over Phillips and Williamson by a wide margin.
Roughly 150 South Carolina Democrats mingled together at the state fairgrounds here, watching as MSNBC quickly called the election for Biden. They cheered as DNC Chair Jaime Harrison and Clyburn addressed the crowd. Clyburn called for the Democratic National Committee to “not to hold the state law in New Hampshire against our Democrats,” and seat New Hampshire’s delegates, despite their unsanctioned contest.
The crowd of party faithful made their way to the open bar where a selection of Corona, Modelo Especial, Kirkland chardonnay and sweet tea was offered to those looking to celebrate. Potluck-style offerings of barbecue wings and macaroni salad from Columbia-based Ray’s Diner greeted attendees. While happy with the results, those who turned out to the Democrats’ celebration party also seemed to be relieved that the pressure of conducting the contest was finally behind them.
The event lacked any real suspense. Folks were headed for the door at 7:45 p.m., less than an hour after polls closed. And by 8:45 p.m., the room that was once bustling had thinned significantly.
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