Joe Biden wins crucial South Carolina primary ahead of Super Tuesday

Ex-US vice president’s victory now puts him close behind Sanders in Democratic race

Former US vice president Joe Biden has won the South Carolina primary - a crucial victory for the 78-year-old Democratic candidate before Super Tuesday. Biden won almost 50 per cent of the vote, giving his campaign with a much-needed boost. Video: Reuters

 

Former US vice president Joe Biden has won the South Carolina primary- a crucial victory for the 78-year-old Democratic candidate ahead of Super Tuesday in two days’ time.

Mr Biden clocked up a better-than-expected victory in the southern state, clinching almost 50 per cent of the vote.

The strong performance by the former vice president has imbued his campaign with a much-needed boost as the Democratic campaign enters a decisive phase with 14 states and one US territory due to vote on Tuesday.

South Carolina - the fourth state to hold its selection process after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada - also has the largest African-American population of the early-voting states. 55 per cent of voters in South Carolina on Saturday were African-Americans, with 61 per cent of this cohort voting for Mr Biden. The former vice president won every county in the state, indicating the breadth of his support in South Carolina

Speaking to supporters in Columbia, Mr Biden thanked the voters of South Carolina for backing him. “Just days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this candidacy dead,” he declared. “Now thanks to all of you - the heart of the Democratic party - we’ve just won and we won big because of you, and we are very much alive.”

He also made a barely-veiled dig at front runner Bernie Sanders, asserting that Americans did not want a revolution but instead wanted “results.”

“If Democrats want a nominee who’s a Democrat, a lifelong Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat, join us,” he said to cheers. “We have the option of winning big or losing big. That’s the choice.”

Mr Biden’s commanding victory now puts him close behind Mr Sanders in the Democratic race. But he faces a tough battle on Tuesday when several states, including California and Texas, hold their primaries. Polling suggests that Mr Sanders is on course to win California - the largest state in the union with a coveted 415 pledged delegates - and possibly Texas, though Mr Biden has been polling better in the state and is due to campaign there on Monday. Mr Biden is also polling relatively well in southern states voting on Tuesday such as Virginia and Alabama.

The result of the South Carolina primary is also raising fresh questions about the viability of some candidates. Both Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigeg finished poorly in South Carolina - at 3 per cent and 7 per cent respectively, increasing pressure on Ms Klobuchar in particular to drop out.

Despite Mr Buttigieg’s poor performance in South Carolina - he won just 3 per cent of the African-American vote - his victory in Iowa means that he is still in third place after Mr Sanders and Mr Biden in terms of pledged delegates - the delegates that states send to the Democratic National Convention in July.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire businessman who finished in third place at 11 per cent in South Carolina having spent millions of advertising dollars in the state, suspended his campaign on Saturday night, stating that he could not see a path forward to the nomination.

Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertisement, was not on the ballot in South Carolina but is contesting Super Tuesday states - the results will offer the first indication of his level of support in the country. On Sunday night Mr Bloomberg is due to air a new primetime three-minute ad addressing his ability to deal with the coronavirus.

Mr Sanders’ surge in the first three primary states, had sparked alarm among many on the moderate side of the Democratic party that the high number of candidates is effectively splitting the non-Sanders vote.

Mr Biden’s resolute victory on Saturday in South Carolina could underscore his argument that he is the best person to take on Mr Sanders.

The Vermont senator, who won the nomination contests in New Hampshire, Nevada, and the popular vote in Iowa, responded to his second-place showing in South Carolina at a rally in Virginia, one of the Super Tuesday states.

“There are a lot of states in this country. No one wins them all,” he said to his supporters. “I want to congratulate Joe Biden tonight.” But he urged his supporters to look ahead to Super Tuesday, where he is well-placed to win a number of states, building in part on his growing popularity among Hispanic voters.

Tweeting late on Saturday after the Biden victory was announced, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Congratulations to Sleepy Joe Biden!”

In a separate tweet he claimed that Democrats were “working hard to destroy the name and reputation of Crazy Bernie Sanders, and take the nomination away from him!”