And for former Vice President Joe Biden – a victory is essential as the future of his White House bid is on the line.
While Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont doesn’t have to win in South Carolina, he’d like to make it three wins in a row – after narrowly winning in New Hampshire and routing his rivals in last weekend’s Nevada caucuses. And a strong performance among black voters on Saturday could further cement his status as the undisputed front-runner for the party’s nomination — and the right to face President Trump in November.
On the eve of the primary, Biden spoke to supporters at a rally in Spartanburg.
“South Carolina, this state lifted Obama,” Biden said. “This state holds in its hands power to determine who the next nominee is.
“You hold in your hand the future of the Democratic Party.”
For a second straight night Biden drew a crowd of roughly 750 people – large by Biden standards.
Biden is banking on a win in South Carolina to re-energize his flagging campaign. But a loss would likely bring an end to his third bid for the White House.
The one-time unrivaled front-runner has long looked to the Palmetto State – where black voters make up roughly 60 percent of the Democratic presidential primary electorate – as his firewall.
Thanks to his eight years as vice president under President Barack Obama, Biden remains very popular with African-American voters. And after disappointing fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as a distant second place finish to Sanders in Nevada – South Carolina is even more vital to Biden.
A Real Clear Politics average of the seven polls conducted this week shows Biden with a small double-digit lead over Sanders among likely Democratic presidential primary voters in South Carolina.
Biden has enjoyed a very good week.
Thanks to a muscular performance in Tuesday’s prime time Democratic nomination debate in Charleston, the campaign touted that it hauled in $1.2 million from nearly 30,000 donors on Wednesday – an impressive figure for a candidate who has struggled all cycle with fundraising.
That same day, Biden landed an endorsement from longtime Rep. James Clyburn – the dean of Palmetto State Democrats. The backing by Clyburn, the most senior black politician in the state, was seen as a boost for Biden.
Biden’s team is hoping a convincing victory in South Carolina will generate plenty of national media attention – to propel him into next week’s Super Tuesday primaries – where some giant states like California and Texas hold contests and a third of all Democratic presidential nomination delegates are up for grabs.
He’ll need it – because as he’s concentrated all his energy on South Carolina the past week – Biden has badly trailed nearly all his rivals when it comes to investing time and money on the Super Tuesday states.
But even before the results come in, Biden believes he’s already a winner in the Palmetto State. He told reporters Friday that he’s already gotten enough of boost from his time there that will carry over into Tuesday’s coast-to-coast contests.
A lot less is on the line for Sanders, who claimed a raw vote win in Iowa’s caucuses, won an outright in New Hampshire’s primary, and pummeled his rivals in Nevada.
But after performing extremely well with Spanish-speaking and black voters last weekend in Nevada, a solid showing with African-Americans in South Carolina will further boost Sanders heading into Super Tuesday, where there’s a large non-white Democratic presidential primary electorate in the four largest states to hold contests – California, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.
Sanders, who’s making his second straight White House run – got his clock cleaned by eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 South Carolina primary. Thanks to her dominance with black voters, Clinton topped Sanders by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.
But fast forward four years and Sanders is resonating with African-Americans.
South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson gives Sanders credit for turning things around.
“I think one of the most fascinating things is that Bernie Sanders appears to have learned from his loss from 2016 in South Carolina,” Robertson told reporters Thursday.
Robertson spotlighted that top Sanders surrogates in South Carolina “have done a very good job of trying to make sure that Senator Sanders did not forsake smaller venues with small numbers of people of color for, let’s say, three or four thousand people.”
Sanders touted his electability in his last rally in South Carolina ahead of Saturday’s primary, at a park in downtown Columbia on Friday afternoon.
“Take a look at the last 60 national polls that have been done,” Sanders told the crowd. “Bernie beats Trump 56 out of the 60 times. Take a look at some of the polls in the battleground states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan — Bernie beats Trump.”
Electability had long been one of Biden’s major selling points – that he was the strongest Democratic candidate capable of taking on Trump in November. But thanks to his primary calendar winning streak, Sanders has seen his national poll numbers soar in recent weeks. Now more Democrats are starting to see the independent senator as the strongest contender to defeat Trump.
After poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, Tom Steyer was hoping for a strong finish in Nevada.
The billionaire hedge fund manager-turned-environmental and progressive advocate spent a lot of money and time in the Silver State, but didn’t get his bang for his buck as he finished in the low single digits in last weekend’s caucuses.
But Steyer – who has been heavily courting black voters – is optimistic things will be different in South Carolina.
The latest polls place him in third place – behind Biden and Sanders.
Steyer told Fox News on Friday how he viewed his chances.
“We have a very good team here. I’ve spent a lot of time on the ground and I’m talking straightforwardly about issues,” he said. “This is a heavily African-American state. I talk very straightforwardly about race. I’m the only person talking about reparations for slavery. I think I’ve been here the most and looked most people in the eye and talked most straightforwardly and I think that’s why.”
Asked how a solid finish in South Carolina would help him in the Super Tuesday states, Steyer said, “I think that’s a springboard for people to think that I can pull this party together, which is what I want.”
Robertson, the state party leader, gave Steyer credit.
“It appears he resonates very well. He’s very personable,” Robertson said. “I’m not going to be surprised if Steyer wins a delegate or two.”
And he predicted that if Steyer does well, it would take a bite out of Biden’s support among older black voters.
Steyer showed off his moves Friday night — dancing onstage to a live performance of “Back That Azz Up” by rapper Juvenile at his primary-eve rally.
The event was held at Columbia’s Allen University, a historially black college.
Steyer and Biden are the only two Democratic candidates who will be in South Carolina when the polls close Saturday night.
Challenge for Buttigieg
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s struggles to resonate with black voters have been well-documented by political reporters.
While his campaign is keeping expectations low in South Carolina – a senior campaign aide who asked to remain anonymous, to speak more freely, told Fox News they’re looking for a fourth- or fifth-place finish – it also hopes to demonstrate that Buttigieg can court black voters.
Buttigieg was introduced at a primary-eve town hall in Columbia by Miss Black America Ryann Richardson, who has endorsed the 38-year-old Afghanistan War veteran. Buttigieg told the predominantly white crowd of more than 1,000 people that South Carolinians were “in the heart of the most important thing happening in democracy right now” and he asked for their support to make history and change the course of the country.
“Before it is too late,” he added.
An energetic Elizabeth Warren introduced herself to the crowd at a canvass kickoff in Greenville on Friday as “the woman who’s going to beat Donald Trump.”
But the best finish the senator from Massachusetts has seen so far on the primary calendar was a bronze medal in Iowa – and it doesn’t appear that she’ll match that in South Carolina. But Warren gets some credit for returning to the Palmetto State on Friday to campaign after spending Thursday in Texas, the second-largest of the Super Tuesday states.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota – whose South Carolina expectations are minimal – moved on to stump in Super Tuesday states following Tuesday night’s debate.
Mike Bloomberg also departed South Carolina after this week’s debate – but Bloomberg is not on the ballot in the Palmetto State – as he skipped all four early-voting states to concentrate his time, energy and vast resources on the delegate-rich Super Tuesday states.
With coast-to-coast voting in those 14 states coming just three days after the first-in-the-South primary, South Carolina’s results could have an immediate impact on Democratic race.
Fox News’ Mitti Hicks, Madeleine Rivera, Andrew Craft, Andres del Aguila and Tara Prindiville contributed to this report.