Feb 29, 2020 - Politics & Policy

What to know about the South Carolina Democratic primary

Campaign signs for Joe Biden and Tom Steyer sit in the same street corner in North Charleston, S.C.
A bicyclist rides pass campaign signs for Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Tom Steyer the day before the primary in North Charleston, S.C. Photo: Joshua Lott / AFP via Getty Images

South Carolina Democrats cast ballots today, the first in the South, toward picking the party's presidential nominee.

Why it matters: 61% of South Carolina's Democrats are black, and Saturday's primary is the first major test of African-American support for the candidates.

Details: Polls are opened from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m EST, and anyone in line at 7:00 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

  • The state's Republican Party passed on a primary, in support of President Trump.

On the ballot: Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and businessman Tom Steyer.

  • Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Booker, former Rep. John K. Delaney, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and businessman Andrew Yang have withdrawn from the race, but their names will still appear on the ballot.
  • Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will not be, however. He is focusing instead on the Super Tuesday contests, coming up on March 3.
  • Write-in votes are not permitted in South Carolina's primary.

At stake: 63 delegates. Most will be assigned proportionally by congressional districts to candidates who win at least 15% of the state vote.

Where they stand, per FiveThirtyEight's poll average in South Carolina:

  • Biden: 37.6%
  • Sanders: 18.5%
  • Steyer: 12.8%
  • Bloomberg: 10.3%
  • Buttigieg: 8.3%
  • Warren: 7.2%
  • Klobuchar: 4.1%
  • Gabbard: 2.8%

The state of play: Biden is the front-runner in South Carolina, and he needs an overwhelming win to continue his campaign.

  • But a strong showing from Sanders could indicate how his appeal in the state has grown since 2016, when only about 14% of black voters backed him and 86% went for Hillary Clinton.
  • Steyer has a $13.3-million bet riding on a strong showing in South Carolina. He's hoping the heavy spending and his focus on racial issues and climate change resonates with voters and allows him to stay in the race.

For the record: The candidates have spent nearly $20 million on advertising in South Carolina, per FiveThirtyEight.

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