By JOSEPH LEONARD and MARIA JUTTON
Joe Biden dominated the Palmetto State on Saturday, winning nearly 50% of the vote in the state’s Democratic presidential primary and the largest contingent of African American voters so far in the race to the White House. The former vice president is now looking to continue his momentum into Super Tuesday.
“If Democrats want a nominee who’s a Democrat, a life-long Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat, then join us,” Biden said in his victory speech at Carolina Volleyball Center on the University of South Carolina campus.
“I think this is South Carolina saying, ‘Hey, we’re an advocate for you right back, Joe Biden,’” said Kevin Martinez, a Columbia resident who attended Biden’s primary night rally.
Martinez said he supported Biden because of his experience as a vice president under President Barack Obama for eight years. He also noted Biden’s visit to advocate against white supremacy after the 2015 Charleston church massacre at Emanuel AME Church.
“He just brings that humanistic approach,” Martinez said.
Biden won the most votes in every county in South Carolina. He was followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 19.9% of the vote. California billionaire Tom Steyer, who dropped out of the presidential race Saturday night, rounded out the top three with 11.3% of the vote. This is the former vice president’s first primary win, after several disappointing finishes in the Nevada and Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
Martinez said that although Biden has had a rough start to the 2020 presidential campaign, he hopes Biden’s strong showing in South Carolina is a sign of more success to come.
“You need to take this energy and show why South Carolina advocated so hard for you and why these other states could feel like they could do the same,” Martinez said.
Fourteen states will vote on Super Tuesday in their primary elections. More than one-third of all delegates for July’s Democratic National Convention will be claimed on this day. A candidate needs 1,991 delegates to win the presidential nomination.
Sanders currently leads the field with 60 delegates, and Biden follows in second place with 54. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was in third place with 26 delegates before suspending his campaign on Sunday. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, with seven delegates, has also dropped out of the race, ending her campaign Monday afternoon and endorsing Biden for the nomination. Klobuchar and Buttigieg are now able to direct their delegates to other candidates.
Biden received endorsements from several key politicians on his way to winning South Carolina, including 6th District Rep. James Clyburn, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and two former Democratic governors.
James Coleman, a Columbia native and CEO of G.A. Carmichael Family Health Center, a non-profit primary care center in Mississippi, said he supported Biden during his time as vice president.
“I think he has the charisma and has the heart and the compassion to connect with people of all different races and populations,” Coleman said.
Tia Hopkins, who traveled from Baltimore, Maryland, said although her state doesn’t vote until after Super Tuesday, she came to South Carolina to get the momentum going among African American voters for Biden. Hopkins said she sees South Carolina as a “black test” for Biden, meaning the primary shows how well he sits with African American voters and how well they turn out for him.
Looking ahead to Super Tuesday, Hopkins said Biden’s South Carolina win could show how he’ll perform in other states with diverse electorates, such as North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas.
“We were just really excited about Joe,” Hopkins said. “There’s a lot of African Americans down here that are really excited about Joe.”
Reporters Maddox McKibben-Greene and Cole Smithson contributed to this report.