In his first visit to South Carolina as a 2020 candidate, Joe Biden bragged about “my buddy Barack.” He warned of “Jim Crow sneaking back in.” And he mocked President Donald Trump, calling him a “clown.”
The former vice president this weekend made his opening trip through what might be the most important state in his path to the Democratic nomination. It’s where he’ll attempt to leverage two advantages he has over the rest of the primary field: Decades-long relationships with party leaders and his early strength with black voters – who are likely to prove decisive here and in other southern-state contests.
Black voters made up 61% of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina in 2016. And Hillary Clinton’s strength with those voters – she captured 86% of their support to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 14% – was a preview of how Clinton would ultimately win the party’s nomination.
This time, Biden begins as the front-runner with non-white voters – with 50% support among the group in a CNN poll released last week, compared to his 39% support overall. But he faces a deeper and more diverse field of lesser-known contenders, including two black candidates in California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
In an interview with The Post and Courier, Biden said the state is crucial to his chances of winning the Democratic nomination – and emphasized being the vice president to the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama.
“When Barack and I worked together, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to change the systemic racism that exists and continue to work on that,” Biden said. “So I think the African-American community nationwide knows who I am. I’m not saying the others aren’t qualified, I’m just saying I’ve been there.”
Biden has maintained relationships with influential Democrats in all of the early-voting states. In Iowa, state lawmakers who introduced him at separate events told stories about him calling to check on their sick children. After his weekend trip to the state, the Biden campaign rolled out endorsements from 23 “key South Carolina lawmakers and political and community leaders,” a list that includes six current state lawmakers.