Joe Biden wins SC's 1st-in-nation Democratic primary
President Joe Biden on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, won the state's Democratic presidential primary. It was the first time Biden's name was on the ballot this cycle.
South Carolina voters delivered then-candidate Joe Biden a major win in the state's Democratic presidential primary four years ago.
Four years later on Saturday, those voters delivered for the president once again.
"Today, South Carolina took the lead," Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison at a Biden victory party in Columbia. "Today, my friends, South Carolina made history."
President Joe Biden was declared the winner in the first-in-the-nation, South Carolina Democratic presidential primary. He faced two longshot challengers, Congressman Dean Phillips and author and speaker Marianne Williamson.
The Associated Press called Saturday's race at 7:23 p.m.
Through the night, Biden continued to hold more than 96% of the vote, with Phillips and Williamson staying in single digits.
"This night is historic," S.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Christale Spain said at the Biden victory party. "The South has something to say, and we’ve said it.”
The win followed more than a months-long get-out-the-vote sprint by the state Democratic Party, Biden's surrogates, Vice President Kamala Harris and the president himself as they sought to not only energize voters before the primary but ensure solid turnout.
"You (the state party) have demonstrated once again that boots on the ground means more than procrastinators and prognosticators," Congressman Jim Clyburn said from Biden's victory party.
Neither Biden nor Harris were in South Carolina Saturday.
However, both visited the state multiple times ahead of the primary. A week ago, Bidenheadlined a party dinner and Harris spoke at a rally Friday at the historically Black South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.
“In this election, each one of us, we face a question, ‘What kind of country do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country of liberty, freedom and rule of law, or a country of disorder, fear and hate?,'” Harris said Friday. “We face a choice: cruelty or compassion; chaos or competence; division or unity. Each of us has the power to answer these questions on a daily basis. And South Carolina tomorrow (Saturday) at the ballot box.”
Columbia voter Lee Monk, 76, said she voted Saturday to show the rest of the country that South Carolina cares.
"Obviously, there's no real contest, so I didn't need to vote. But I show up every time they open the door anyway," Monk said. "But I want the rest of the country, and the world to know, that we care about this here. We're not all Trumpers."
Now it's on to Nevada, where the state holds its caucus Tuesday, followed by Michigan.
"And we're going to take what you did for us in South Carolina and run with it," Biden said via speakerphone from California. "Well, thanks everybody. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. And you're not rid of me, I'm coming back."
SC goes 1st on Democratic nominating calendar
Turnout was key in Saturday's primary.
Democrats want to silence the narrative — whether by polls or TV pundits — that Black voters in particular are soured on the president's candidacy. Democrats said they also want to prove to naysayers and the country that South Carolina deserves to once again hold the first-in-the-nation primary in 2028, where the political stakes will be higher.
Turnout was also a concern for James Smith, 64, the political action officer for the Columbia branch of the NAACP.
"It is not going that well. People are just not plugged in," Smith said Saturday afternoon. "They are not interested in part for several reasons."
Smith said he spoke to roughly 25 people Saturday, who either said they didn't know about the primary, or said they planned to vote for Biden in the general election, so they didn't think it was necessary to vote in the primary.
Others, he said, were not sure where there precinct was or couldn't get a ride.
"Voting is critical, especially this time of year, this time, because our democracy is on the ballot," he said. "And I'm also telling them that there's a thing called voter swag, stuff we all get. You vote, you have a chance of getting what you voted for. But if you don't vote, you're definitely going to get what someone else voted for you to have."
But state Democratic Party officials were patting themselves on the back before polls even closed Saturday because of what they said were strong early voting numbers they believe are the result of the party’s recent, 115-event get-out-the-vote push in all 46 counties.
The events included big name surrogates and took place primarily during the state’s two-week early-voting period, aiming to get Democrats fired up for the first official primary.
Party leaders acknowledged it's difficult to compare total turnout in Saturday's contested, though not competitive primary to previous cycles.
Jay Parmley, executive director of the state party, said Black voter turnout in the early-voting period increased 13% over the 2020 Democratic primary.
Four years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the state only offered early in-person absentee voting, which required an approved excuse, compared to the currently two weeks of early voting up to Saturday's primary.
Before Saturday, Parmley said 51,710 ballots were cast early, which included returned absentee ballots.
Of that total, Parmley said 76.5% of voters who cast ballots early were African Americans, who make up the majority of the state Democratic Party electorate.
South Carolina does not have party registration, but Parmley said data analysis showed that 6,100 voters cast their early ballot in their first Democratic presidential primary.
Allendale County had 10 times the number of people vote early in the Democratic primary compared to 2020. Nine other counties also surpassed their 2020 early vote count: Anderson, Berkeley, Dorchester, Horry, Jasper, Orangeburg, Saluda, Union and Williamsburg counties.
At a press conference Saturday before polls closed, Parmley said the solid early turnout proved that the work on the ground, whether by party or campaigns, was successful.
“I don't have a crystal ball to know what final numbers are going to be, but from this analysis with early vote, we are extremely pleased as we've watched the turnout all across the state over the last two weeks," Parmley said.
Back in 2020, the Democratic presidential primary was highly competitive.
Then, there were seven candidates still in the race and several others, who had dropped out by the primary, still on the ballot.
In that primary, 540,000 ballots were cast, with Biden winning 49% of the vote.
Vermont Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second with 20%.
In the 2020 general election, 1.1 million Democrats voted with 1.4 million Republicans.
In 2012, there was no primary because President Barack Obama was the incumbent.
So, officials said, it’s hard to compare, if at all, previous turnout numbers.
Party officials said success won’t necessarily be defined by numbers, but rather by the diversity of the electorate and past success in choosing the eventual nominee.
On multiple occasions, Parmley said that S.C. Democrats know what they’re doing.
“We were picked, and I'm going to say this every day: We were picked to go first because our voters give a damn and our voters have turned out repeated(ly),” Parmley said. “And we've picked presidents and we have demonstrated through all of this activity, and through our strong early vote numbers, that we were damn well deserving of this. And that our voters are enthusiastic, enthusiastic and energized."
Parmley added that when you go first, "there's nothing else to compare it to. So I can't give you a number."
SC Republicans go next
South Carolina's Democratic primary isn't the only election that'll be held this month.
Up next? Former Gov. Nikki Haley versus her ex-boss, the 45th president, Donald Trump.
The South Carolina Republican presidential primary is Saturday, Feb. 24.
Early voting begins Feb. 12.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.