Feb 4, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden's South Carolina show of force


Biden addresses the South Carolina Democratic Party's First in the Nation Celebration on Jan. 27. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

President Biden's landslide victory in South Carolina yesterday gave him exactly the visual he wanted — and needed — as the starting gun fires for a marathon general election campaign.

Why it matters: Biden did not face serious competition from Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Marianne Williamson. But with more than 95% of the vote in all 46 of South Carolina's counties, an incumbent president couldn't have asked for a stronger show of force.

  • It's a vindication of Biden's decision to award South Carolina the first slot on Democrats' primary calendar, after the state's Black voters helped resurrect his campaign in 2020.
  • And while his approval rating remains dangerously low, Biden will welcome the contrast of a united Democratic Party with a GOP still clashing over the near-inevitable nomination of former President Trump.

What they're saying: "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," Biden said in a statement.

Dean Phillips tweet
Biden's primary challenger Dean Phillips acknowledges his defeat. Screenshot via X

Between the lines: Watch for the Biden campaign and its allies to attempt to use the results to discredit negative polls, a tactic they relied on after big Democratic victories in 2022 and 2023.

  • "The best way to predict how people will vote is to look at how they voted. Last night Biden beat polls by 20% in SC, and got 96% of the vote," Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina tweeted.
  • "For a year pundits have said that Democratic voters don't want Biden to run again. But today, in the first official chance for those voters to speak — Biden got [96%] of the vote from a diverse cross section of Dems!" tweeted former White House chief of staff Ron Klain.
  • Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Biden's top surrogate in South Carolina, said on CNN that the president's dominance in heavily Black areas "demonstrates to me what I have been saying all the time: that Joe Biden has not lost any support among African Americans."

Yes, but: Just 24% of Democratic voters turned out compared to South Carolina's competitive 2020 primary, and real challenges lie ahead in a general election in which Biden will face a far stiffer challenge.

  • A new national NBC News poll out today found Trump leads Biden by five points — with the former president boasting huge advantages on the border (+35), the economy (+23), and being competent and effective (+16).
  • "On every measure compared to 2020, Biden has declined. Most damning, the belief that Biden is more likely to be up to the job — the chief tenet of the Biden candidacy — has evaporated," Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt, who conducted the survey, told NBC.
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