GREENVILLE, S.C (Reuters) – About six in 10 voters in South Carolina’s Democratic primary on Saturday said influential congressman James Clyburn’s endorsement of Joe Biden was a factor in their decision – a good early sign for Biden’s chances in the pivotal early nominating state, early exit polls showed.
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits a polling site in Greenville, South Carolina, U.S., February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
The polls by Edison Research also found about half of South Carolina voters want a candidate who will return to Democratic President Barack Obama’s policies, a key argument of Biden, who was Obama’s vice president. That compares with three in 10 who want more liberal policies.
Biden is aiming for a decisive win in South Carolina – the fourth state to weigh in on the Democratic race to find a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump – to resuscitate his struggling campaign against national front-runner Bernie Sanders, a progressive U.S. senator from Vermont.
The contest in the Southern state is taking place just three days before Super Tuesday elections in 14 states, which will award one-third of the available national delegates in a single day.
South Carolina, where African Americans account for 60% of the Democratic electorate, is seen as a last stand for Biden. The onetime front-runner faltered in national polls after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.
His second-place finish in Nevada’s caucuses a week ago, while still far behind Sanders, provided his campaign fresh momentum, and polls show he is well positioned to win South Carolina.
For months, Biden’s campaign has argued the state would serve as a “firewall” given his strength among African-American voters, and Biden himself has suggested anything less than a victory would imperil his campaign.
“He’s going to show them what he’s got,” said Allison Pryor, 57, a retired parole officer from Charleston who said she planned to vote for Biden.
Biden’s South Carolina effort got a boost on Wednesday when Clyburn, a black congressman from South Carolina, endorsed the former vice president.
With Super Tuesday looming, Biden hopes a comfortable victory in South Carolina might be enough to blunt the momentum of Sanders, a democratic socialist who Democratic Party leaders worry might be too far left to beat Trump.
After South Carolina, Biden will also face competition from billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has blanketed the country with half a billion dollars in advertising. Bloomberg skipped the first four states and will be on the ballot for the first time on Tuesday.
“If we win solidly here, I think it’s going to raise us a lot of money as well and a lot of enthusiasm,” Biden told reporters as he greeted supporters at a polling place in Greenville, South Carolina, on Saturday.
Sanders, with his unabashed populist message of ending economic inequality, has grown stronger with each contest, finishing in a virtual tie for first in Iowa with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, before notching a narrow win over Buttigieg in New Hampshire and a decisive victory in Nevada.
Sanders said on Friday he was in “striking distance” in South Carolina.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said at a church hall in Saint George, a town about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Charleston. “When we started this campaign here in South Carolina, I think we were 25 or 30 (percentage) points behind. We’ve made up a lot of ground.”
An upset victory could make Sanders hard to beat in his second bid for the White House, four years after he lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton.
Reporting by Joseph Ax and Trevor Hunnicutt in Greenville, South Carolina; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Saint George, South Carolina, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Writing by John Whitesides and Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Soyoung Kim, Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis