Abraham Kenmore, SC Daily Gazette
February 3, 2024
COLUMBIA, S.C. — President Joe Biden cruised to an expected victory Saturday in Democrats’ first recognized contest of 2024, following a month-long push by the president and his proxies to drive up turnout after the party put South Carolina first on the official voting calendar.
After The Associated Press called the race at 7:23 p.m., less than a half-hour after polls closed, the roughly 100 party faithful gathered at the South Carolina Fairgrounds chanted “four more years!”
With less than 30,000 votes counted, Biden was winning with 97% of them.
“I want to let you guys know, South Carolina, tonight is our night,” state Democratic Party Chairwoman Christale Spain told the crowd. “For the first time, Southern voters, Black voters and rural voters have had the chance to have their voices heard first.”
Biden called in to his victory party from Los Angeles.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose 2020 endorsement catapulted Biden to the White House, held his cellphone up to a microphone, but reporters stationed in the back couldn’t hear what the president said.
“In 2020, it was the voters of South Carolina who proved the pundits wrong, breathed new life into our campaign and set us on the path to winning the presidency,” Biden said in a statement. “Now, in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again, and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the presidency again and making Donald Trump a loser again.”
The result of Democrats’ “first-in-the-nation” presidential primary was never in doubt, with Biden running against two extreme-long-shot candidates: U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson. Even when Phillips spoke to South Carolina Democrats, he said he fully expected 95% of the vote would go to Biden.
Still, Democratic officials and the Biden campaign went all out with get-out-the-vote efforts that focused on energizing Black voters, who make up a large part of South Carolina’s Democratic base. The party touted that a “six-figure” investment in radio, digital and outdoor advertising in South Carolina represented its earliest ever spending during a presidential contest on outreach to young, rural and Black voters.
That outreach effort continued after polls opened Saturday, as Biden called in to four Black radio stations across the state, his campaign announced.
Janae Epps, a 47-year-old University of South Carolina employee, said she was flooded with messages to vote.
“I got so many text messages that I’m kind of sick of them, and emails, that some of them I’ve opted out of,” she said, after voting at Irmo Elementary in suburban Columbia.
Biden visited twice himself, kicking off the campaign at the historic Black church in Charleston where a white supremacist gunned down nine worshipers in 2015. He returned last weekend to headline the Democrats’ “First-in-the-Nation Celebration” dinner. Other stops included a Black barber shop and, on Sunday, two Black churches.
Vice President Kamala Harris made three trips, the last on Friday at South Carolina State University, the state’s only public historically Black four-year college.
With Biden being the guaranteed winner, voters told the SC Daily Gazette a sense of civic duty is what brought them out to the polls.
“I try to vote every chance possible,” Robin Mays said after voting in rural Hopkins south of Columbia.
The 37-year-old nurse said she’s well aware that people who looked like her — being a “double whammy” of Black and female — were once kept from voting, so she regularly exercises her right.
Mays said she voted for Biden.
So did Sam Waters, a 79-year-old retiree who voted at Dreher High School in downtown Columbia.
“I’ve seen what he’s done for the nation in the last three years, and I can’t imagine jumping ship right now when he has a chance to continue the programs,” he said.
Perhaps surprisingly, Waters said he came out despite not seeing any of the get-out-the-vote messaging.
Besides Biden and Harris, others visiting the state as campaign surrogates included first lady Jill Biden; California Gov. Gavin Newsom; Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff; former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and U.S. Rep Ro Khanna of California.
Keeping South Carolina first
Democrats pushed South Carolina to the front of the 2024 nominating contest because of its diversity, saying Palmetto State voters better represent the party than Iowa and New Hampshire, whose voters traditionally went first and second.
National Chairman Jaime Harrison, who’s from Columbia, pitched it as an opportunity for Black voters, “the heart and the backbone of the Democratic Party,” to set the agenda for 2024 and beyond. Democrats needed a strong showing Saturday to keep South Carolina first in future presidential contests.
“I’m going to do everything in my power” to make that happen, Harrison told reporters at the fairgrounds.
“I am ecstatic at the turnout numbers I’ve seen so far,” he said.
This year’s calendar shift also was seen as Biden rewarding the state. It was South Carolina that catapulted Biden to a win in 2020 with a 30-point advantage here over second-place finisher Bernie Sanders, following fourth- and fifth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Voters in South Carolina do not register by party, allowing the state’s 3.2 million registered voters to vote in either the Democratic or Republican presidential primary. They just can’t vote in both.
More than 48,000 people cast ballots in the two-week early voting window that ended Friday, according to the state Election Commission.
Although the Democratic National Committee put South Carolina first on the voting calendar, New Hampshire leapfrogged South Carolina to go first anyway. Biden refused to register for that primary or campaign in the state but won as a write-in anyway with 64% of the vote.
Nearly 79,500 people wrote in Biden’s name in the Granite State.
Ahead of Biden being declared the South Carolina winner, Clyburn said he will ask Democrats’ rules committee to count New Hampshire’s delegates despite the state’s snub of the official calendar.
“That what Joe Biden has done for three years — making this country’s greatness accessible for everybody and affordable by everybody,” Clyburn said.
According to Biden’s schedule, he will spend Sunday and Monday in Nevada ahead of that state’s presidential primary Tuesday.
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