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A Look Back to SC’s Primary Can Offer Insights Into Future National, Local Races

Joe Biden supporters await the former Vice President during his SC Primary election night watch party in Columbia, SC.
Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio
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Joe Biden supporters await the former Vice President during his SC Primary election night watch party in Columbia, SC.

With 352 delegates up for grabs, some have referred to the March 10 primaries as “Super Tuesday, part two.” Five states: Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Idaho, and Washington held primaries, while North Dakota held caucuses. Former Vice President Joe Biden emerged with wins in four states (Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Idaho) while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders leads in North Dakota and Washington. As the last two major candidates in the Democratic presidential nomination process, Biden and Sanders now turn their attention to the March 17 primaries. But a look back at South Carolina’s February 29 contest could cast a foreshadowing light on upcoming races, both nationally and locally.

“The country is changing and therefore South Carolina is changing as well,” said Democratic strategist and

The country is changing and therefore South Carolina is changing as well.

political commentator Antjuan Seawright. “We, for the first time in the state, have one million registered [to vote] people of color. We saw that demonstrated in the participation in the 2020 Presidential Preference Primary,” he added.

Voter turnout in the state’s Democratic Presidential Primary was the highest recorded in its history, according to the South Carolina Democratic Party (SCDP). 539,020 Democrats and Independents voted on February 29, not only surpassing 2016 numbers, but also breaking the 2008 previous record by almost 7,000 votes.

“No one thought we would supersede the turnout in which you had Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on a ballot in a very convincing primary here in the state,” Seawright said.

He added voter turnout surges, seen in many counties, said “everything” about the growing demographic changes in the state as well as the mood and “temperature” of the South Carolina voter.

“Although we don’t have registration by party, I think you saw independent thinkers and registered Republicans participate because they wanted to have a say-so in what our democracy looks like, as it’s being shaped by the way of the Democratic nomination process.”

SCDP Executive Director Jay Parmley and Chairman Trav Robertson, during a primary press conference Saturday February 29, discussing elections updates, including absentee ballots, voter turnout and voting issues reported.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio
SCDP Executive Director Jay Parmley and Chairman Trav Robertson, during a primary press conference Saturday February 29, discussing elections updates, including absentee ballots, voter turnout and voting issues reported.

Numbers released by SCDP showed some of the counties with the greatest voter turnout. Charleston County, one of four that make up the state’s coastal, 1st Congressional District (a previously Republican stronghold seat, recently flipped in 2018 by political newcomer Joe Cunningham) with a 58% increase in voter participation.

Seawright said he thinks these numbers are a snapshot or preview of what’s to come.

“There is no way you can have one million people of color registered in this state, who will likely lean Democratic, and not put that towards future elections, whether it be local races or national elections.”

Seawright added Sen. Lindsay Graham’s re-election race for the state’s 3rd Congressional District is another contest that may be strongly impacted by recent voter registration and turnout numbers. The district lies in the western part of the state and is comprised of nine counties and portions of two, Greenville and Newberry Counties. According to SCDP numbers, only Greenville saw a significant increase in voter turnout during the Primary.

"While everyone agrees it could be a tough battle, everyone also agrees Jamie Harrison is the toughest candidate to take on Lindsay Graham," Seawright said.

SCPD: A few of the counties with the greatest increase in voter turnout

Beaufort County: Voter turnout increased by 81%

Berkeley County: Voter turnout increased by 63%

Charleston County: Voter turnout increased by 58%

Dorchester County: Voter turnout increased by 62%

Greenville County: Voter turnout increased by 72%

Horry County: Voter turnout increased by 80%

Lancaster County: Voter turnout increased by 75%

York County: Voter turnout increased by 86%