Chris Cillizza’s winners and losers from the South Carolina primary
CNN’s David Chalian and Van Jones break down what former Vice President Joe Biden’s victory in the South Carolina primary could mean for his chances in Super Tuesday states with large electorates of black voters.
Former Vice President Joe Biden got the win he so badly needed, with just days left before primary goes nationwide — starting with Super Tuesday, when 14 states and American Samoa are set to cast ballots.
* Joe Biden: The former vice president would have taken any sort of win after finishing fourth, fifth and second in the first three votes. That he won with such a HUGE margin — almost 30 points over Bernie Sanders — should provide him with at least some sort of bounce heading into Super Tuesday. And Biden’s dominating performance among black voters in South Carolina (he won more than 6 in 10) should bode very well for his chances in southern states likes Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia, which have substantial black populations and are set to vote on Tuesday. Biden still isn’t the clear alternative to Sanders in this race, but he took the first necessary step to being that person on Saturday.
* Jim Clyburn: Almost half of South Carolina voters said that the endorsement of the longtime African American congressman was either a critical or one of several key factors in their decision. That is a VERY big deal — and a sign that there are still some endorsements that actually matter. Clyburn also made clear on Saturday — before the vote was final — that even though he had endorsed Biden, he didn’t think things were hunky dory in the campaign. “I think we will have to sit down and get serious about how we retool this campaign, how we retool the fundraising, how we do the GOTV, and at that point in time many of us around the country will be able to join with him and help him get it right,” Clyburn said of Biden.
* Contested convention lovers: Biden’s sweeping victory in South Carolina creates the possibility that you could have at least three candidates — Biden, Sanders and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — in this race for the long haul. And that raises the likelihood that no candidate secures the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic convention. If that happens, it would be the first time a Democratic presidential nomination went beyond first ballot since 1952. (Adlai Stevenson won on the third ballot in that race.)
* Bakari Sellers: Way back on February 3 — after it was clear that Biden was going to finished outside of the Top 3 in Iowa — Sellers, the 2014 South Carolina Democratic lieutenant governor nominee and current CNN contributor, predicted that the former vice president would still win the Palmetto State primary in 26 days’ time, easily. I scoffed, citing momentum and all that. Bakari was right. I was wrong.
* Michael Bloomberg: The entire raison d’etre of Bloomberg’s candidacy is that Biden isn’t strong enough to win the Democratic nomination and that Sanders can’t beat President Donald Trump. The first part of that theory took a major hit Saturday, as Biden’s win — and the size of it — seem likely to help his positioning on Super Tuesday. Bloomberg has to hope that his sustained advertising efforts in places like California, Texas and North Carolina can withstand what you presume to be a burst of momentum behind Biden. Because of his immense personal wealth, Bloomberg can stay in the race as long as he wants. The question is whether after Super Tuesday he can still credibly make the case that it is him, not Biden, who has the best case to be the anti-Bernie.
* Bernie Sanders: Had Sanders been able to pull off a win in South Carolina, the nomination would have been nearly in hand. But he didn’t come close to doing that. And while Sanders improved on the 14% of the black vote he won in South Carolina in 2016, it wasn’t much of an improvement: 17%. Sanders is still very well-positioned to clean up in the delegate-rich state of California (and, to a lesser extent, Texas) on Tuesday, but the chances of him quickly wrapping up the nomination went way down on Saturday.
* Pete Buttigieg: In some past elections, what the former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor pulled off in Iowa (he won) and New Hampshire (he finished a strong second) would have given him momentum heading into Nevada, South Carolina and beyond. The 2020 race hasn’t worked out that way. Buttigieg’s distant fourth-place finish in South Carolina follows a third place in Nevada — and both seem to point to the same thing: He is not able to make any sort of real inroads among non-white voters. (Buttigieg took just 3% of the vote among black voters in South Carolina.) As Buttigieg looks to Super Tuesday and beyond, where exactly affords him the opportunity to leap to the front of the line of Bernie alternatives? Yeah, nowhere.
* Tom Steyer: The billionaire businessman dumped more than $20 million on TV ads in South Carolina — more than 10 times what the next highest-spending candidate did — and still wound up with just over 11% of the vote. That’s not a great return on investment, which Steyer must have sensed as he dropped out of the race Saturday night after the disappointing finish.
* Elizabeth Warren: Warren made news earlier this week when she seemed to suggest she had no plans to get out of the race before the party’s national convention. That’s a good sound bite, but the political reality looks much tougher. Warren finished fifth in South Carolina, and if you believe polls, she is likely to lose her home state to Sanders on Tuesday. The longer Warren, an avowed liberal, stays in, the better for the moderates — Biden, Bloomberg etc. — who are desperately trying to limit a major delegate lead for Sanders.
* Caucuses: Sorry, Iowa and Nevada! The primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina — well-organized, election results in a manageable time frame — put the slow-counting, hard to run and even harder to understand caucuses to shame. Why do we even have caucuses in the presidential race again?