With time running out on Joe Biden — and for that matter, the Democratic Party — the South Carolina primary on Tuesday has begun to look like the last chance to reset the Democrats’ presidential primary. Biden has spent considerable time in the state lately, even prioritizing it over Nevada after New Hampshire turned out badly. What had been a dominant lead for the former VP has turned into a tight two-way race with Bernie Sanders.
The latest poll from the Palmetto State gives Team Biden a glimmer of hope — but not much more than a glimmer. Biden’s down to a margin-of-error edge in the Winthrop University poll, with Tom Steyer remaining in the viable range for delegates:
Joe Biden remains the top choice for South Carolina voters for the Democratic Party presidential nominee but other candidates are gaining ground and nearly 1 in 5 likely voters are still undecided, according to the latest Winthrop Poll. Given the margin of error, his lead of 24% to Sanders’ 19% may be scant indeed.
Scant? The MoE is 4.7% in this survey, so scant is a potentially good word for it. However, the topline results here track very closely with the RealClearPolitics aggregate average at the moment, as does the trend line:
Biden has dropped more than 15 points over the last four months in the RCP average, but note that Bernie Sanders has not gained quite that much. Sanders has benefited from a consolidation of progressive voters as Warren’s fortunes have declined in South Carolina and as others have dropped out. Biden’s been undercut by Tom Steyer, who has practically moved into South Carolina over the last few months and campaigned vigorously in the moderate lane there, especially in African-American communities.
Biden’s still remaining strong with African-American voters, but that’s also down from his earlier 50%-ish peak:
A fourth of those surveyed in this most recent Winthrop Poll said they were leaning toward voting for Biden, the former vice president. Of the African American voters contacted, Biden had even higher numbers, at 31%.
Other candidates planning to run in the S.C. primary with support were U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, 19%; billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, 15%; and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 7%; and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 6%. The remaining two candidates fell under 5%. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not on the S.C. ballot.
Electability isn’t an overriding concern for South Carolina primary voters, however. When asked, the voters split evenly between the ability to beat Donald Trump (44%) and sharing their political views (45%) as the most important quality for a candidate. To the extent that Biden’s been working on a most-electable argument, it might put a ceiling on just how far he can rebound, even with a pretty good debate performance this week and a lot of attention on the Palmetto State.
If Biden can pull off a win here, however thin it might be, he can breathe new life into his campaign — or at least its credibility. A Biden win here might shift some Super Tuesday voters back into his column who had switched to Michael Bloomberg before Wednesday’s debate. Bloomberg’s disastrous performance won’t stop the multibillionaire from running, but it’s likely to cause a lot of people to conclude that he’s less electable than Biden is, under the circumstances. A win in South Carolina, even by a thin margin, would allow Biden to woo those voters — and donors — back into the fold.
And if Biden can’t win in South Carolina? It might be time to fold the tents. At the very least, that’s what his donors will be thinking.