Joe Biden wins South Carolina during first official contest for Democrats: recap

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — President Joe Biden cruised to an easy victory Saturday in the South Carolina primary, the first official contest of the 2024 Democratic nomination process.

The Associated Press called the race for Biden about an hour after the polls closed at 7 p.m. The only question is how big a percentage the president will roll up against long-shot candidates U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson.

At Biden's behest, the Democratic National Committee approved a new primary calendar that put South Carolina at the head of the line, ahead of traditional starters Iowa and New Hampshire.

In a series of radio interviews throughout the day, Biden said he had insisted that South Carolina be the first state to select convention contests.

"It's really important that South Carolina be first in the nation because it reflects the nation more," the president told local radio station WFMV. "It's more diverse. It has more, not only African Americans, but more people of different backgrounds."

Though the outcome isn’t in question, the primary could give clues as to where Biden stands with his party’s base. How well he energizes Black voters in South Carolina could forecast how he might fare elsewhere and what more he has to do to win over key supporters to secure a second term.

South Carolina revived Biden's struggling presidential campaign four years ago. In a written statement, Biden said he hopes Saturday's victory will set the path to winning the presidency again.

“In 2020, it was the voters of South Carolina who proved the pundits wrong, breathed new life into our campaign, and set us on the path to winning the Presidency," Biden said.

See how candidates fared: South Carolina presidential primary results since 2000

South Carolina voter Annie Barnes, a 78-year-old retiree from Charleston, said Biden deserves a second term because "the economy is going great. He’s done the best he can with the border situation. He’s done the best he can do with the Gaza situation."

Barnes said she wishes things were better and Biden was younger, but "I pray to God he beats (Donald) Trump.”

Follow along throughout the day for live coverage from USA TODAY's team of journalists.

Phillips says he's not quitting the race despite South Carolina results

Despite the prospect of a third-place finish in South Carolina − with less than 2% of the vote − Phillips says he is not leaving the race and will run in the Michigan primary on Feb. 27.

"Cracking four digits never felt so good!" the Minnesota congressman said on the social media site X, formerly Twitter. "Congratulations, Mr. President, on a good old fashioned whooping. See you in Michigan."

-David Jackson

No exit polls tonight in South Carolina

Don't expect too much detailed demographic information about the South Carolina Democratic primary.

There are no exit polls.

The networks opted not to spring for exit polls in a one-party primary in which an incumbent Democratic president was an overwhelming favorite in a state that is expected to go Republican in November.

-David Jackson

When is the primary in South Carolina? A guide to the Republican and Democratic elections.

Jan 27, 2024; Columbia, S.C., USA; President Joe Biden speaks during the First in the Nation Dinner and Celebration in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday, Jan 27, 2024.
Jan 27, 2024; Columbia, S.C., USA; President Joe Biden speaks during the First in the Nation Dinner and Celebration in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday, Jan 27, 2024.

Biden's reaction: South Carolina will send me to the White House again

Biden claimed victory in South Carolina by calling into a Democratic bash in Columbia, but his remarks on a speaker phone were hard to decipher.

In a written statement, Biden noted that a win in the South Carolina primary in 2020 propelled him to the White House − and said the same thing will happen in 2024.

Now, he said, "the people of South Carolina have spoken again, and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the presidency again − and making Donald Trump a loser, again."

− David Jackson

South Carolina's Republican primary is Feb. 24

Now that the Democrats have held their primary, South Carolina Republicans get their chance in three weeks.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley hopes to use the Feb. 24 GOP primary to slow down Trump's drive to the presidential nomination.

Trump hopes to close out Haley's challenge in her home state.

− David Jackson

Biden on track for massive win in South Carolina

The AP and television networks called South Carolina for Biden less than 25 minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m.

Early returns gave Biden more than 95% of the vote over rival Phillips and Williamson.

− David Jackson

See the results: South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary

Next up is the Nevada caucus and primary

After Saturday's South Carolina Democratic primary, the political world turns its attention next week to Nevada − a state where Republicans hold both a primary and a caucus.

Nevada Democrats will conduct a straightforward primary on Tuesday, where Biden is again an overwhelming favorite.

For Republicans, it's a bit more complicated. While there is technically a Republican primary, the Silver State GOP's focus is awarding convention delegates at caucuses on Thursday, where Trump is the overwhelming favorite.

Why two contests? Because the Nevada Republican Party objected to a 2021 law signed by a Democratic governor designed to replace caucuses with primaries. At Trump's behest, the GOP decided to hold post-primary caucuses as part of the party's "protest" of state run-primaries.

The state party also said that candidates who participate in the primary are not eligible for the caucuses.

Nikki Haley is the only major GOP candidate in the Nevada primary, in part because she and other GOP candidates who have since left the race believe the fix is in for Trump in the caucuses.

− David Jackson

More: When is the Nevada primary election and the caucus? What to know about the dual contests.

Biden turns down Super Bowl Sunday television interview

Biden is making campaign plans beyond the South Carolina primary - and they do not include a televised interview on Super Bowl Sunday.

CBS News said Saturday that Biden has declined an invitation to be interviewed during the Feb. 11 Super Bowl pre-game show, an opportunity that presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump seized during their re-election campaign years.

Biden also turned down a Super Bowl interview last year, when Fox televised the event.

− David Jackson

Biden: 'Weirdest campaign I've ever been engaged in'

As South Carolina Democrats voted, Biden addressed workers at his campaign headquarters in Delaware and urged them to keep their focus on Trump, the likely Republican opponent.

“The guy we’re running against − he’s not for anything, he’s against everything," Biden said.

Biden, who later boarded Air Force One for a trip to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, added that "it's the weirdest campaign I've ever been engaged in," again because of Trump.

"It's even worse, in terms of his behavior, than the last time in 2020," Biden said.

− David Jackson

More: Jobs and the stock market are booming. Why isn't Joe Biden getting more of a lift in the polls?

Why is South Carolina going first?

South Carolina is the first of many primaries in what is expected to be a brutal presidential rematch this November against former President Donald Trump, a Republican.

South Carolina doesn’t usually go first. That honor of first-in-the-nation primary has traditionally been bestowed upon New Hampshire.

But national Democrats decided to move up South Carolina’s primary this year and make it the nation’s first official contest. Part of the reason is South Carolina has a diverse population. Black people make up nearly 30% of the state’s population while New Hampshire is nearly 93% white.

New Hampshire, however, objected to changing the primary calendar and scheduled its contest earlier than allowed. National Democrats said that violated the rules, so Biden didn’t appear on the ballot there. Not that it mattered. New Hampshire Democrats waged a write-in campaign on his behalf, and he ended up easily winning that primary on Jan. 23.

But even though New Hampshire Democrats went first, South Carolina is the first officially sanctioned primary of this year’s presidential contest.

Forget New Hampshire: South Carolina is the 'official' start of the Democratic nomination process

The Biden campaign and the Democratic Party are touting today's primary as the real start of the 2024 nomination race (such as it is) - last month's write-in effort in New Hampshire doesn't count.

At Biden's behest, the Democratic National Committee approved a new primary calendar that put South Carolina at the head of the line, ahead of traditional starters Iowa and New Hampshire.

As the Associated Press put it, New Hampshire held a leadoff primary anyway in defiance of the DNC, but without the president’s or the national party’s backing and no delegates at stake."

David Jackson

What do turnout and advance vote look like?

There are about 3.3 million registered voters in South Carolina. Voters do not register by party. Turnout in the 2020 Democratic primary was about 16% of registered voters. It was about 13% in the 2016 primary.

Saturday’s event will be the first presidential primary held in the state since a new early voting law was enacted in May 2022. The law allows voters to cast ballots in person up to about two weeks before Election Day without an excuse. In the 2016 Democratic primary, when voters had to provide an excuse to cast an absentee ballot, about 14% of votes were cast before Election Day. In the 2022 midterm primaries, after the new law went into effect, pre-Election Day voting was at about 21%.

As of Monday, nearly 24,000 voters had already cast their ballots.

Michael Collins

More: What's the difference between a caucus and a primary election? Here's how each works.

How did Joe Biden fare in South Carolina in 2020?

Biden’s campaign was struggling when he marched into South Carolina four years ago. He had placed fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary. Before the polls in New Hampshire even closed, he decided to bail out on a planned campaign party and flew off to South Carolina, which his team believed could be the firewall that would turn their fortunes around.

It was a smart move.

Biden easily won South Carolina, carrying all 46 of the state’s counties and claiming 61% of the state’s Black vote, which was pivotal to his victory. Biden’s win in South Carolina gave him momentum heading into the Super Tuesday elections three days later. He would go on to capture the Democratic nomination and defeat incumbent Trump in the general election the following November.

‘We’re not bailing you out’: DNC chair sends warning to Nikki Haley

Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison has a message for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on primary day: Democrats are not “bailing you out.”

“We are not going to vote for you because you didn't do anything for us. You didn't do anything for us. So, we're not bailing you out,” Harrison told reporters Saturday. “We’ve got two MAGA apples in this field that's left, and both of them are rotten. And so, Democrats in South Carolina aren’t bailing either one of them out."

The message comes as the organization Primary Pivot has urged South Carolina voters to sit out the Democratic primary and instead cast their ballots for Haley in the Republican primary to prevent former President Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination.

− Sudiksha Kochi

What is Biden up to on South Carolina primary day?

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, addressed a few hundred supporters at their campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware.

Joe Biden gave a six-minute speech thanking Americans for their support and hitting on his usual theme of preserving democracy by defeating former President Donald Trump in 2024.

“This is more of a mission. We cannot lose this campaign. For the good of the country,” Joe Biden said.

− Sudiksha Kochi

When is Super Tuesday ?

Super Tuesday will be held on March 5. It marks the date when the greatest number of states hold their primaries and caucuses.

The states conducting elections on 2024's Super Tuesday include Alabama, Arkansas, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia.

The results of the Iowa Democratic caucus will also be announced on Super Tuesday.

− Sudiksha Kochi

Biden leads other candidates in South Carolina primary

President Joe Biden is looking to place first in South Carolina, and an Emerson College poll shows the winds are in his favor.

The poll conducted between Jan. 2 and Jan. 3 found that sixty-nine percent of Democratic primary voters plan to support Biden, while 5% support Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and 3%  support Marianne Williamson. Twenty-two percent of Democratic primary voters are undecided.

“Biden holds a strong base of support among South Carolina Democrats, no alternative presents any challenge for the president,” Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, said. “The 22% still on the sidelines present an opportunity for Biden to begin his 2024 primary elections with a strong showing to open for the Democratic nomination."

− Sudiksha Kochi

Biden's 2020 victory in South Carolina was a pivotal event

Voters in today's South Carolina's Democratic primary are echoing one of the most pivotal races in political history: The 2020 South Carolina Democratic primary - the race that propelled Biden to the presidency.

At the start of the 2020 Democratic nomination process, Biden fared badly in Iowa and New Hampshire. He rallied in South Carolina with the help of an endorsement from long-time U.S. Rep Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

After his easy win in South Carolina, opponents  began dropping out and endorsed Biden in his race against Bernie Sanders.

Biden never looked back after South Carolina, going on to win the nomination and the general election against President Donald Trump.

− David Jackson

When is the 2024 Democratic primary? A state-by-state guide to the election schedule

How is Biden doing among Black voters this time?

This year, polls, including one from USA TODAY, show some Black voters aren’t as excited about a Biden bid. Some young voters of color are upset Biden hasn’t called for a cease-fire in the Israeli/Hamas war, in which thousands of Palestinians have been killed or injured.

In a Pew Research Center survey released in mid-January, nearly half of Black voters approved of Biden’s job performance and about the same number disapproved.

One of Biden’s key supporters, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., is tamping down expectations for high Black voter turnout this year. Four years ago the Democratic field was more crowded, there was a global pandemic and the country was engulfed in social unrest.

“The lay of the land is a little bit different (now)," said Clyburn, one of the highest-ranking African Americans in Congress.

The Democratic National Committee and the Biden reelection campaign are working overtime to turn out Black voters in the uncompetitive primary. Biden has visited the state twice this year; Vice President Kamala Harris has visited three times since the beginning of January. First lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff have also campaigned there.

More: When is the Nevada primary election and the caucus? What to know about the dual contests.

Who else is running?

Besides Biden, the other Democrats on the ballot are Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Marianne Williamson, an author and spiritual leader

Phillips received about 20% of the vote in New Hampshire, while Williamson got about 4%. Williamson was part of the crowded 2020 field that included Biden, but she dropped out before the first contests.

Neither poses a serious threat to Biden this year.

South Carolina has an open primary election

South Carolina has an open primary, which is a primary election where voters do not have to have a political party affiliation to vote for partisan candidates.

The South Carolina Election Commission states on its website that “You can pick either primary but you can only vote in one.”

Voters must have registered by Jan. 4 to participate in the Democratic primary. Those who vote during this time will not be allowed to vote during the Republican contest on Feb. 24.

Nina Tran, Greenville News; Sudiksha Kochi

What about Donald Trump and Nikki Haley

Voters eagerly watching the GOP contest between Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will have to wait a little longer.

South Carolina’s Republican primary will be held on Feb. 24.

Who can vote in South Carolina?

South Carolina has an open primary system, which means any registered voter may participate in any party’s primary. Voters may only participate in one party’s presidential primary, so those who vote on Saturday may not vote in the Republican contest in three weeks.

How much longer until the finish line?

As of Saturday, there will be 198 days until the start of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and 276 days until the November general election.

− Michael Collins

Contributing: The Associated Press and the Greenville News

2024 election dates to know: Joe Biden, Donald Trump and other White House hopefuls face off

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: South Carolina primary recap: Biden wins first contest for Dems