Biden returns to SC as Dems aim to energize voters before 1st-in-nation primary
The South Carolina Democratic presidential primary is Feb. 3, 2024.
Four years ago, after setbacks in Iowa and New Hampshire, Joe Biden needed South Carolina to claim his party’s nomination.
Democratic Party voters in the state delivered.
"Just days ago, the press and the pundits declared this candidacy dead," Biden said four years ago in Columbia after he won the state's Democratic primary. "Now, thanks to all of you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we just won and we’ve won big because of you.”
Crucial to Biden’s win in South Carolina were Black voters, who make up about two-thirds of state’s Democratic Party participants. Most of those voters are women.
The Biden campaign is looking to now replicate that success.
In 2020, Biden faced a long list of Democratic contenders but scooped up nearly 49% of the vote in the South Carolina primary.
This time, he's the incumbent.
So U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn thinks Biden will get a very strong showing in the Feb. 3 Democratic primary here.
“I would expect him to improve significantly over that number. He has a record, and it’s a great record, and it’s particularly a great record for South Carolina," Clyburn told SC Public Radio.
A strong showing in South Carolina would validate Democrats' decision to make the state the first official nominating contest. And they're also hoping that if they can increase their support among Black voters here in the state, it could provide some momentum for November.
Not all, however, are convinced that Biden deserves their support.
“Well if the turnout is low, Black voters are saying we’re not energized," said 31-year-old Chris Salley, the former chairman of the Anderson County Democratic Party, who resigned in October over disagreements with the state party and Biden's handling of Israel's war in Gaza.
Salley said he didn't vote for Biden four years ago, and says he's not planning to again.
Instead, he plans to write in progressive activist Cornel West.
Salley, who is Black, said he's not the only young voter who feels like their voice has been ignored by the party and the Biden administration. He said the top concern he hears is about Biden's age. Biden is 81, and former President Donald Trump, poised to be the GOP presidential nominee, is 77 years old.
"It's the election nobody wanted, but everybody's getting," Salley said.
He added, "The Black community, the young communities are still saying you’re not listening to us. Listen to us to get our vote. We’re not saying it’s not possible to get our vote. But you need to listen to us. It’s not guaranteed just by being a little bit better.”
On the other hand, 66-year-old Susan Lewis, of Columbia, says this election is too critical to sit home. Lewis said she’s doing what she can to motivate others to show up on Election Day.
“I just cannot sit at home and not do my part, that I can do," she said.
An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist Poll from last month, found Black voters, like Lewis, overwhelmingly approve of Biden. Most of those voters are over the age of 45.
Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist, said he has a message for Democrats whose concerns with Biden may lead them to stay home:
“I would much rather have Joe Biden in this position to deal with your concerns and their issues than the other side, because I don’t think anyone on the other side would even entertain the idea or welcome the idea of free speech and protesting when it comes to issues like foreign policy," Seawright said. "No matter the disagreements we may appear to have on the surface, they do not compare in no way shape or form to the differences we have with the other side.”
Seawright does think that for Democrats to repeat four years ago, the party and Biden surrogates need to sharpen their message and meet the voters where they are.
“In South Carolina, we say barbershop, beauty parlor issues, Kiki’s chicken and waffles, lizard thicket issues," he said.
And he says some of the things the administration should highlight are lowering prices on insulin and forgiving some student loan debt.
“These are big mammoth things, the biggest stuff since (former President) Lyndon Johnson’s great society program, and nobody is giving him credit for it because we weren’t going out there and telling them," Clyburn said. "We’ve got to tell them.”
Clyburn told SC Public Radio he thinks headlines about Black voters' slipping support for Biden are a bit overblown. Even some recent headlines about an interview he gave, he said, didn't accurately portray his concerns.
“My concerns were not with Biden, compared to what everybody seemed to be saying," he said. "I think he’s got a solid record, a great record.”
The White House and the media mainly, he added, need to "complete the story."
And that’s what the Biden-Harris campaign appears to be trying to do.
It’s why the president spoke earlier this month at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the site of the 2015 racist mass shooting. It’s why Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries was here on King Day at the S.C. Statehouse. It's why first lady Jill Biden and Govs. Roy Cooper and Gavin Newsome have traveled to the state.
It’s why Biden returns Saturday for a first-in-the-nation Democratic Party dinner.