CHARLESTON, S.C. — Former vice president Joe Biden may be on the verge of securing the first Democratic primary win of his political career here in South Carolina, where voters will head to the polls on Saturday.
A Biden victory in the Palmetto State would end a remarkable winless streak spanning more than 30 years, three presidential campaigns, and countless train rides. But with Super Tuesday lurking just around the corner, there won’t be much time to celebrate, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) will attempt to lock up the Democratic nomination with strong showings in the 14 states—including Texas and California—holding primaries on March 3.
A win on Saturday is by no means guaranteed for Biden, who is coming off his best performance of the year in last week’s Nevada caucus. The former VP (and onetime formidable frontrunner) came in second but still lost to Sanders by more than 25 points. A number of polls show the socialist insurgent (and current formidable frontrunner) within striking distance in South Carolina.
That doesn’t bode well for Biden, who will need a decisive victory to have any hope of challenging Sanders at the Democratic convention in Milwaukee. At this point in the race, lasting until the convention looks like the best-case scenario for any of the remaining candidates not named Bernie. Even former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has already spent nearly half a billion dollars on his campaign despite not yet appearing on a single ballot, pledged to keep running until “the bitter end.” If Biden does win decisively, his campaign will attempt to woo much-needed donors by pitching the candidate as the most viable alternative to Sanders.
If Sanders is able to pull off an improbable upset in South Carolina, it would put Biden out of his misery once and for all. He could return to the train yard in Delaware, miles away from the TV studios where hapless political pundits would be wondering how the Democratic primary might have played out differently if former president Barack Obama had endorsed his former running mate—or if Biden had taken the advice of his former boss, who reportedly told him, “You don’t have to do this, Joe, you really don’t.” In any event, he won’t have to invent any more stories about being “arrested” in apartheid South Africa.
The result in South Carolina could also have significant ramifications for Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city. Buttigieg will likely perform well among his core demographics of wealthy whites with graduate degrees, Boat Shoe Dads, and retired ’90s Soccer Moms who sit on the boards of corporate charities. Unfortunately, those groups make up a smaller percentage of the population here than in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Buttigieg finished in the top two.
Mayor Pete is on track to place fourth or fifth in South Carolina, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. He would be fortunate to record a statistically significant level of support among African-American voters—a recent East Carolina University poll found him winning just 2.3 percent of the black vote. A result in that range on Saturday would presumably obliterate Mayor Pete’s claim to viability as a primary contender heading into the diverse slate of Super Tuesday states. He’s not projected to win a single one, but his campaign is hoping to stay alive by executing the “Dukakis strategy,” which doesn’t sound very promising.
Former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, who was blown out in the 1988 general election against George H.W. Bush, was the last candidate to win the Democratic nomination without a majority of support from black voters. In any event, one imagines Buttigieg’s “white Obama” affectation will start to wear a bit thin after the former mayor posts single-digit performances among minority voters.
If Buttigieg is especially lucky, he might surpass Tom Steyer, the generic billionaire candidate who was singled out by President Donald Trump on Twitter ahead of his MAGA rally in Charleston on Friday. “To the people of South Carolina, Tom Steyer is a joke, laughed at by everyone, a total incompetent,” Trump wrote on the popular social networking website. “Has no chance, a loser for South Carolina, doesn’t deserve your vote!”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) is also on the ballot in South Carolina.