South Carolina, the state that launched Joe Biden to the Democratic nomination four years ago, is set Saturday to deliver the president his first official primary victory of the 2024 campaign.
Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson are also on the ballot. But Biden remains the overwhelming favorite to win as he begins his quest to rack up the delegates necessary to win his party’s nomination again. Fifty-five delegates are at stake in Saturday’s primary in South Carolina.
This year marks the first time South Carolina has appeared at the front of the official Democratic nominating calendar — a change made largely due to Biden’s urging.
DNC elevates South Carolina over Iowa and New Hampshire
For decades, Iowa and New Hampshire had cast the first votes in Democratic presidential primary battles. But the Democratic National Committee decided to move those states back in the calendar in the face of criticism that their largely White electorates didn’t reflect a Democratic base that is much more diverse nationally.
Iowa Democratic officials accepted the changes, opting to hold a mail-in caucus with ballots sent to voters starting January 12 and due to be postmarked back by March 5 — Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen other states are scheduled to hold their primaries.
New Hampshire officials, citing a state law requiring that its primary be the nation’s first, pushed back — holding a rogue Democratic contest alongside the Republican primary on January 23.
However, the Democratic National Committee punished the Granite State by stripping it of delegates to the party’s 2024 convention. Because the state did not comply with the calendar the DNC had set, Biden didn’t file to appear on the state’s primary ballot. But loyalists of the president launched a successful write-in campaign on his behalf that saw him take 64% of the vote.
To cement South Carolina’s status as the first primary of the 2024 Democratic race, Biden visited the Palmetto State twice last month, and Vice President Kamala Harris headlined a get-out-the-vote event at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg on Friday.
“You’ve had my back, and I hope I’ve had yours,” Biden told the Sunday lunch crowd at Brookland Baptist Church in Columbia last weekend.
The president won’t be in South Carolina on Saturday, as he departs for a fundraising swing through Southern California and Nevada.
With Biden facing little serious competition for the Democratic nomination, Saturday’s primary is important for the president nonetheless because it marks a return to the place that catapulted him to the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Biden limped into the South Carolina primary that year after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, fourth in the New Hampshire primary and a distant second in the Nevada caucuses. However, the Palmetto State’s large Black population — and a late endorsement from influential Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn — helped deliver Biden a dominant victory that, for the first time, demonstrated strength with a core Democratic constituency that no other primary contender could rival.
Days later, Biden moved closer to clinching the party’s nomination by racking up a virtually insurmountable delegate lead across a wide swath of diverse states on Super Tuesday.
South Carolina is dominated by Republicans in general elections. The last Democratic presidential nominee to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
But the push by the Biden campaign and its allies in South Carolina is part of a broader effort to shore up support with Black voters, a bloc crucial to the president’s reelection prospects, particularly in battleground states such as Georgia and the “blue wall” states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The Democratic primary is taking place three weeks before Republicans will vote on February 24. The GOP primary could be former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s last chance to slow former President Donald Trump’s march to a third consecutive Republican presidential nomination. But a recent Monmouth University-Washington Post poll showed her trailing Trump by 26 points in her home-state primary.
CNN’s Betsy Klein, Terence Burlij and Ethan Cohen contributed to this report.
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