5 Takeaways From the South Carolina Democratic Primary

Biden cruised to victory in the first official Democratic primary, and now eyes the general election as he marches towards renomination.

COLUMBIA, S.C.—South Carolina as expected delivered a rousing victory to President Joe Biden in the nation’s first official Democratic primary election.

The incumbent president won 96 percent of the vote on Feb. 3 with 75 percent of votes counted. The president had faced only token opposition from Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and author Marianne Williamson who each gained approximately 2 percent of the vote.

President Biden addressed supporters by telephone who had gathered for a watch party in the city. “Thanks, everybody. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. You’re not rid of me. I’m coming back,” he said, to cheers and applause from attendees.

The victory sets the stage for a general election contest between one incumbent and an incumbent-like former president, Donald Trump, though neither has yet been officially named as their party’s nominee. President Trump is expected to defeat South Carolina’s former governor, Nikki Haley, in South Carolina’s upcoming Republican primary on Feb. 24.

South Carolina Democrats celebrate President Joe Biden's victory at the state fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Lawrence Wilson/The Epoch Times)
South Carolina Democrats celebrate President Joe Biden’s victory at the state fairgrounds in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Lawrence Wilson/The Epoch Times)

A Resounding Victory—But Does It Matter?

The Palmetto State has often been good to President Biden. He carried the state in the 2020 Democratic primary with 48 percent of the vote in a 7-person field.

That was more than double the vote received by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent seeking the Democratic nomination who had previously won the New Hampshire primary. Pete Buttigieg, now secretary of transportation, had until then carried Iowa’s Democratic caucuses. South Carolina made the difference then, though perhaps not now.

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“The truth is I wouldn’t be here without the Democratic voters of South Carolina, and that’s a fact,” the president said during a campaign event in Columbia on Jan. 27.

President Biden was heavily favored in polling of South Carolina Democrats. He led pre-primary polls with the support of 69 percent of respondents in an Emerson College poll released on Jan. 5. Mr. Phillips gained 4 percent and Ms. Williamson 3 percent. But the state is a solidly red one, unlike nearby Georgia and North Carolina.

“What happens today in South Carolina—it doesn’t matter. There’s no way Joe Biden wins South Carolina come November,” Richard Gordon, the founder of Gordon Strategies and member of the chairman’s board of the Democratic Governors Association, told The Epoch Times.

President Biden managed to avoid serious embarrassment in the unofficial Jan. 15 New Hampshire primary in which his name did not appear on the ballot.

The president declined to file for the election since it was not recognized by the Democratic National Committee. Even so, a write-in campaign for President Biden left him with 64 percent of the vote. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) placed second with 20 percent.

“New Hampshire was a little trickier than usual because they weren’t contesting the primary, but they were subtly contesting it in a way to try to make it seem like there was some sort of groundswell of support for Biden among New Hampshirites,” Daron Shaw, a professor of state politics at the University of Texas, told The Epoch Times.

In South Carolina, by contrast, the president’s sky-high total was almost as fait accompli.

“I really don’t think that the primary results today are remotely meaningful,” Mr. Gordon said.

Democratic officials declined to comment on the scope of the victory at a watch party in Columbia after the race was called until further data was available.

A polling site on Democratic primary Election Day in Greenville, S.C., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
A polling site on Democratic primary Election Day in Greenville, S.C., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Low Turnout

With 68 percent of votes counted, including some 48,000 early ballots and about 3,400 absentee ballots, the total number of votes cast appears to be approximately 198,000.

While that would exceed the number of Democratic ballots cast in the 2022 state primary election, it is well below the 540,000 votes cast in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Democratic leaders had expressed concern that having an incumbent president facing only token opposition in the state might depress participation.

“I think our issue will be turnout,” Valerie Moore, chair of the Richland Party Democratic Party told The Epoch Times on Feb. 1. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh well, he’s, he’s gonna get elected, so why bother going?’”

Leaders were also aware that some Democrats intended to vote instead for Nikki Haley in the Republican primary later this month in an effort to defeat President Trump.

Democrats worked against both impulses by phone banking and by conducting a First in the Nation Tour. The tour, headlined at some stops by Democratic National Committee Chair Jamie Harrison, made 115 stops in 32 counties to rally Democratic primary voters.

Black voters, who comprise 51 percent of Democratic voters in South Carolina, are a key constituency for President Biden.

“From the data, we saw a 13 percent increase in black voter participation,” Christale Spain, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party announced on Feb. 3.

The state has been seen as a proving ground for the Biden campaign in its efforts to mobilize black voters, a key bloc the Democratic Party hopes to secure in a likely general election contest with President Trump.

<img src="https://www.theepochtimes.com/_next/image?url=https%3A%2F%2Fimg.theepochtimes.com%2Fassets%2Fuploads%2F2024%2F01%2F23%2Fid5571979-biden-trump-comp-OP-1200×784.jpg&w=1200&q=75" alt="President Joe Biden. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images) /
Former president Donald Trump. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)” width=”640″ height=”418″>
President Joe Biden. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images) /
Former president Donald Trump. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Primary Over and On To the General

Many South Carolina Democrats consider the nomination of President Biden all but settled and have set their sights on November’s general election.

Indeed, South Carolina has been skipped in past primary seasons by both parties. The Republicans did not hold one here in 2020 when President Trump was running for his party’s nomination as an incumbent. Neither did Democrats in 2012, when President Obama was in a similar position.

Some in the state seemed barely aware of the contest.

As he entered Brackett Hall at Clemson University on Feb. 3, Col. Sandy Edge was far more interested in supporting his Tigers. The streets nearby were being cleared for a parade to celebrate the men’s soccer team, which won the national championship.

Polling places in Greenville and Irmo were almost empty at midday and near the close of polls, respectively.

House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), at the watch party, pointed toward the general election by making an oblique reference to President Donald Trump in remarks to Democratic party members following the election.

“This is a great country. There’s no need to make it great. It is great already,” Mr. Clyburn said, urging attendees to join the effort to “bring this country back together again.”

Mr. Gordon, the analyst, argued that President Biden would be better served by focusing on states like Michigan that will be battlegrounds in November.

The president went to Michigan this week partly to repair relations with the state’s large Arab American community–a demographic that is increasingly at odds with Democrats over the Israel-Gaza war.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at South Carolina State University ahead of the South Carolina Democrats' primary election in Orangeburg, S.C., on Feb. 2, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at South Carolina State University ahead of the South Carolina Democrats’ primary election in Orangeburg, S.C., on Feb. 2, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Biden Largely Absent From State Top Dems Wanted First in Line

Despite the importance of this primary as the first nominating contest for Democrats, President Biden campaigned little in the state. His last appearance here came a week ago at a political dinner in Columbia.

President Biden did not visit at all during the week of the primary, though he did speak at an event in Wilmington, Delaware the same day as the primary. During his win, the president was at a campaign event in Los Angeles with black entertainment industry leaders.

While the president was mostly a no-show as things drew to a close, Vice President Kamala Harris made a campaign stop on his behalf in Orangeburg on Feb. 2 alongside leading black Democrats from the state at a historically black school, South Carolina State University.

“Jim Crow came to begin with one vote. One vote could very well decide what our future is,” Rep. Clyburn said in his remarks ahead of the vice president.

The rhetoric from the vice president and her all-star lineup was in tune with national Democrats’ message in attempting to bump South Carolina to the front of the line this cycle–a move that some say was motivated by concerns over New Hampshire’s racial diversity and that others tied to the president’s strong performance in South Carolina during the 2020 primary season.

In her Feb. 2 speech, Ms. Harris said South Carolina “put President Joe Biden and me on the path to the White House.”

But politicians in New Hampshire, including some Democrats, weren’t having it, and so the Granite State’s primary came first.

Bill Gardner, the former secretary of state of New Hampshire, told The Epoch Times that “denying the people of this state [New Hampshire] because we’re too white is a shame.”

Last month, the president spoke at an event at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the site of a racially motivated 2015 mass shooting. There he faced demonstrations from protesters seeking a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war. His recent absence from South Carolina means his campaign’s message hasn’t been marred by any such optics.

Mr. Gordon rejected the idea that fear of protests might have deterred the president.

“There was nothing to be gained in South Carolina,” he said.

But he did warn the president risks moving black voters, at least at the margins—though not, he argued, in any sort of wholesale realignment. Mr. Shaw contended that South Carolina isn’t a great test case for the president’s appeals to a key Democratic demographic.

“The South Carolina electorate is not a terribly representative African American electorate,” he said.

A person walks in to cast their ballot at the Eastbridge Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
A person walks in to cast their ballot at the Eastbridge Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Enthusiasm for Biden Still a Question—Including with Black Americans

Many primary voters on Feb. 3 seemed more enthusiastic about the democratic process than about a specific Democratic candidate.

“There’s a lot of turbulence, but it’s a process of reaching our ultimate goal … For us to keep this experience alive, this process has to happen. It cannot be taken for granted,” Rodney Graham, 63, of Elgin told The Epoch Times after voting at Catawba Trail Elementary School.

Blake Faries, 39, of Richland was the first to enter the polls at Meadowfield Elementary School in Columbia.

“We all need to get out and cast our vote. It’s important to let your voice be heard,” he told The Epoch Times just after 7 a.m. Eastern, when his own ballot was freshly cast.

Isola Washington Calhoun, 94, appears at Greenview Park in Columbia, S.C., after voting in the Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 3, 2024. (Lawrence Wilson/The Epoch Times)
Isola Washington Calhoun, 94, appears at Greenview Park in Columbia, S.C., after voting in the Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 3, 2024. (Lawrence Wilson/The Epoch Times)

“You can’t complain if you don’t vote,” Isola Washington Calhoun, 94, of Columbia, S.C., said after voting at Columbia’s Greenview Park.

Ms. Calhoun is believed to be the oldest voter in the city’s Greenview precinct. The widow of an Air Force veteran, Ms. Calhoun has voted consistently in each election since she became eligible, including while stationed in Japan and Germany.

“I thank God I’m an American. You know how blessed you are,” she said.

Some voters did express strong support for President Biden.

“I’m just happy to show support for Joe Biden because I think he needs the numbers,” Hope Soroos, 79, of Elgin, said after casting her ballot for the president.

But Trevor Tiedeman, chair of the Clemson College Republicans, speculated that enthusiasm remains a weak point for the opposing party’s incumbent.

“No one is excited for Joe Biden whatsoever. Even the people that voted for him are like, ‘We could do better than him,’” he told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Gordon, of the Democratic Governors Association, warned of a “lack of enthusiasm within the black community for the president.”

As in Iowa and New Hampshire, the enthusiasm of some primary voters sometimes seemed to hinge more on their strong opposition to President Trump, the GOP frontrunner, than on strong support for President Biden specifically.

“If he gets all of his wishes, he’d be a dictator, and then that’d be the end of it,” said Sandra Hamann, a voter in Greenville.

Yet, she also praised President Biden.

“He’s been in public service for decades. And always good things,” Ms. Hamann said.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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