South Carolina primary tests Biden support with Black voters By Reuters



© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at South Carolina’s First in the Nation Dinner at the State Fairgrounds in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S., January 27, 2024. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

By Trevor Hunnicutt, Jarrett Renshaw and Liliana Salgado

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s re-election bid goes before voters for the first time on Saturday, when Democrats hold their inaugural 2024 primary in South Carolina.

Biden, 81, an unpopular incumbent who faces little competition for his party’s nomination in the run-up to the Nov. 5 U.S. election, is hoping for an overwhelming victory with the heavily Black electorate in South Carolina to quiet doubts about his age and concerns about high consumer costs and security along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Democratic officials interviewed by Reuters expect somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 total primary votes, after a county-by-county tour of the state aimed at exciting voters and multiple events featuring Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris.

“Who sits in the White House, it matters, and in this election we each – each one of us – we face a question: ‘What kind of country do we want to live in?'” Harris said on Friday in Orangeburg, South Carolina. “President Biden and I are counting on you.”

Former President Donald Trump, 77, is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Biden in the general election.

South Carolina has not backed a Democrat for president in the general election since 1976. But because Black people make up more than half of the Democratic electorate in this southern state, it is an important test of Biden’s appeal with a voting base that supports Democrats nine-to-one in presidential races.

Primary results are expected after 7 p.m. Eastern time (0000 GMT Sunday).

Some South Carolina voters said Biden’s re-election bid left something to be desired.

“Sometimes I wonder, is his presence enough because you don’t see him a lot, you don’t hear him a lot,” said Martin Orr, 52, a school administrator from McConnells, South Carolina, speaking about Biden, whom he plans to support in the election. “Is it quiet because of his age or his physical condition, or what’s going on? I think that’s what a lot of people are concerned about right now.”

ECHOES OF 2020

Although there are dozens of primary contests ahead, Biden has already moved into general-election mode, attacking Trump in a series of speeches. Trump is heavily favored to win his party’s nomination after triumphing in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two contests in the state-by-state battle. South Carolina plays host to the next major Republican presidential nominating battle as well, on Feb. 24.

Biden reordered the Democratic calendar to put South Carolina as the first nominating contest, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire, in a move that simultaneously increased the voice of Black voters and all but shut out any potential competition for the nomination.

A dominant win in the South Carolina primary rescued Biden’s broke and flailing campaign four years ago, powering him to an eventual general election victory against Trump.

“Black voters turned out in very large numbers and voted in favor of Joe Biden,” said Kirk Randazzo, chair of the political science department at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “There’s less enthusiasm for him and his policies among minority voters, in particular among Black men. And it’s unclear whether they’re going to turn out to vote or simply stay home.”

In 2020, Biden garnered 49% of the 539,263 votes cast in South Carolina’s seven-person Democratic primary race. Democrats in the state expect him to capture a larger share of a smaller electorate this time against U.S. Representative Dean Phillips and best-selling self-help book author Marianne Williamson.

In New Hampshire, where Biden was not on the ballot last month, he captured 64% of the primary vote thanks to a write-in campaign.

In a recent speech to state Democrats, Phillips said he expects 95% of the state will go for Biden in the primary. But Phillips said he still has a role to play.

“If you want to have a first-in-the-nation primary, you need at least two candidates on the ballot, and I’m happy to be that other guy,” Phillips said.



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