This one is all about the 2020 South Carolina primary on the Democratic side.
South Carolina is in many ways the most important of the early states. It’s towards the end of the first wave of states before Super Tuesday and represents the time when the political men are separated from the boys, or women from the girls depending on who is running. By this point, there will have already been contests in the Midwest, the Northeast, and the West – the South is the last corner of America to chime in, and its effects are often heard loud and clear.
A poor result here means that perhaps a campaign does not stick it out until Super Tuesday, while a strong night in South Carolina may indicate momentum heading into that delegate-rich night.
2020 South Carolina Primary Results: Democratic
Joe Biden won the South Carolina primary in a landslide, beating Bernie Sanders by 28.5 points, or almost 150,000 votes.
Tom Steyer came in third but won no delegates, and therefore dropped out of the race on election night.
Finishing out the top five were Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren. Amy Klobuchar came in sixth and Tulsi Gabbard in seventh.
Joe Biden won every county in South Carolina. Some were close, but others were blowouts.
In fact, Joe Biden’s best county was Williamsburg, a majority-black county in the northeastern reaches of the state. Other counties that fit the same demographic profile went the same way.
Bernie Sanders was at his peak in Pickens County, home to Clemson University in the northwestern part of the state. Biden still won the county even though Sanders won a fair number of precincts.
Tom Steyer peaked in Hampton County, another majority-black county won by Joe Biden As for Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, both had their high-water marks in Charleston County. Nevertheless, it was Sanders who finished second here to Biden, narrowly winning a handful of precincts in greater Charleston. Elizabeth Warren won one precinct in the county in North Charleston.
(Source for all above: South Carolina Election Commission)
Previous South Carolina Primary Results
We go as far back as the 1988 Democratic primary, and have excluded 1996 and 2012 as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were not seriously challenged for their renominations.
More often than not in the last 30-plus years, South Carolina tends to pick the winners. Just Jesse Jackson and John Edwards won South Carolina but lost the nomination, with South Carolina in Jackson’s time coming much later in the process, after Super Tuesday.
2016 South Carolina Democratic Primary Results1
Hillary Clinton won the South Carolina primary in a landslide back in 2016, beating Bernie Sanders by almost a three-to-one margin. She carried every county in the state.
2016 South Carolina Democratic Primary Map
2020 South Carolina Primary Counties to Watch
Greenville County may have the most people of any county in the state, but keep in mind that they are in the deep-red northwestern corner of the state along I-85. A county like Richland County is probably as important, if not more important to a Democratic primary candidate. For one thing, Richland, home to the state capital Columbia, is perhaps the bluest county in South Carolina. There are also over 270,000 registered voters here, a majority of which are non-white, meaning many potential Democratic votes.2 Whichever candidate wins here is going to have a decent shot at the state as a whole with a vote divided a number of ways elsewhere.
For many of the same reasons, Charleston County in the Lowcountry will be critical. Charleston and its immediate suburbs are, for the most part, big and blue; Mount Pleasant to the east is a usual exception.
Horry County and Spartanburg County round out the top five in terms of population, but neither are hotbeds of Democratic support. One like Orangeburg County in the center of the state, south of Columbia, and another such as Sumter County, east of Columbia, may end up being important because of their extensive history of voting blue.
Who Needs A Big Performance in the South Carolina Primary?
No question, this is a very important primary to Joe Biden. Perhaps the former vice president is doing alright in other early states or maybe he is falling behind other top contenders, but this is the state he needs. His lead may not be what it was towards the end of 2019, but Biden needs to win this state and big to reset the race for the Democratic nomination. Biden has done very well in opinion polls with African-American voters in South Carolina3 and he needs them to turn out in large numbers on February 29. Depending on how he does in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada (full calendar here), even a weak victory may be damaging to Biden’s candidacy.
Being one of the few African-American candidates in the race, it would have been interesting to see what Cory Booker did, or did not do, in South Carolina. South Carolina is perhaps the only pre-Super Tuesday state in which Booker was poised for any sort of breakthrough. Biden has since then cornered the African-American vote and looks to ride it to victory.
1: South Carolina Secretary of State, “2016 Democratic Presidential Preference Primary,” SC Votes, March 3, 2016, https://www.enr-scvotes.org/SC/59277/162732/en/summary.html)
2: South Carolina Secretary of State, “South Carolina Voter Registration Demographics, Statewide, Demographics by Race,” SC Votes, January 5, 2020, https://www.scvotes.org/cgi-bin/scsec/96vr?countykey=ALL&D1=RACE)
3: Marc Caputo, “‘Joe is an uncle to our state’: South Carolina polls show Biden with blowout lead,” Politico, November 28, 2019, https://www.politico.com/news/2019/11/18/joe-biden-south-carolina-2020-071397)