Former Vice President Joe Biden has hinged the fate of his campaign on a blow-out win in South Carolina Saturday after losing his frontrunner status with three straight losses in the first Democratic primaries.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on the other hand, as emerged as the one to beat, now barreling towards the Democratic presidential nomination after having comfortably clinched the popular vote in Iowa, captured a first place finish in New Hampshire, and securing Nevada by 26 points.
Biden didn’t just lose the first three states, he lost by huge margins. In Iowa, the former vice president came in a distant fourth, and in New Hampshire, Biden did worse placing fifth, leaving the Granite State without a single delegate. In Nevada, Biden only took little more than 20 percent of the vote for second place, while Sanders won the western contest with nearly 47 percent, almost half the entire vote.
The Biden campaign has been in freefall since Iowa, downplaying expectations in the early states while building up its hopes for a revival in South Carolina branding the palmetto state as the candidate’s “firewall.”
On the day of the New Hampshire primary, Biden even flew to South Carolina as people were still casting their votes and addressed his supporters in New England from a livestream. During Tuesday night’s Charleston debate, Biden refused to even consider the possibility of losing first place in the upcoming primary on Saturday.
“I will win South Carolina,” Biden promised.
After all, everything things seem to indicate Biden might be actually pull out his first win of the race.
According to Real Clear Politics’ latest aggregate of South Carolina polls, Biden currently holds a comfortable lead over he rest of the field with more than 30 percent support followed by Sanders coming in next with almost 23 percent. Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer is in third with 15 percent and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is at 9.
On Wednesday, Biden officially secured the most coveted endorsement a Democrat can capture in the southern state from Congressman James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat and highest-ranking African-American in the House of Representatives.
Biden’s support in South Carolina appears almost rock solid having maintained a frontrunner status there since jumping into the crowded contest last spring, hence why the campaign has latched onto the first southern primary as its bail out card. Of the 30 polls conducted in the state since last year, Biden has only ever lost in one completed earlier this month where Biden tied with Sanders for first place.
A win in South Carolina however, might be too little too late. Biden is the only candidate in the race whose candidacy depends so heavily on the southern contest. Other Democratic rivals have divided more time and resources to the Super Tuesday states slated to vote just three days later on March 3. To date, the Biden campaign has not even spent any advertising money in a single Super Tuesday primary or caucus state, remaining laser-focused on pulling out a strong win in South Carolina.
Since losing big in Iowa, the Biden campaign has taken hit after hit by fading into the background at subsequent debates and poor performances in Nevada and New Hampshire.
Biden may have a good week with South Carolina with a strong debate performance Tuesday night coupled with his first win of the cycle, but Biden may have lost too much ground elsewhere that one win could make up for.
His nationwide frontrunner status is certainly gone. According to Real Clear Politics’ latest aggregate of polls, Sanders now leads the field in nationwide surveys with more than 29 percent support, while the rest of the candidates fall behind. Biden, who led in the national polls all last year is now hanging on to second place with 18 percent support. According to the Real Clear aggregate in the Super Tuesday states where there is credible polling, Biden isn’t leading anywhere. His best bet is Texas and North Carolina, where Biden only polls barely a few points behind Sanders though former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg looms large in North Carolina in a close third while flooding the airwaves with ad spending compared to Biden’s absence.
Even if Biden were to eek out a win in South Carolina, another storyline that the campaign might have to combat is by just how much Biden actually won. In order for Biden’s win to be particularly effective at this point given the candidate’s intense focus, Biden needs to land a knock-out victory with a wide margin. Polling suggests it’s likely to happen, but voters are unpredictable.
A failure to capture South Carolina with a blow-out comparable to Sanders’ victory in Nevada could result in less momentum moving into the subsequent stages of the primary and less resources coming in to maintain a competitive campaign. According to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, Biden only has about $7 million in his campaign war-chest to compete in a nationwide race.
Biden’s fortunes in a South Carolina win therefore might not be enough to resurrect a flailing campaign short on cash and sinking in the polls. It might keep Biden in the race long enough to pick off delegates for a contested convention in July, but it likely won’t sow enough doubts about Biden’s rivals to sweep the following states for a guaranteed nomination in Milwaukee.