Joe Biden’s rivals scramble to capitalise on his woes in South Carolina

What happened to the ex-frontrunner’s firewall?

22.2.2020

Joe Biden still leads in South Carolina but by less than five points, compared with 20 points at the start of the year

What happened to the ex-frontrunner’s firewall?

Being an elder statesman has not turned out to be the advantage the Biden campaign hoped. Mr Biden’s team has always seen South Carolina as his firewall. A resounding victory in its primary on February 29th, courtesy of a Democratic electorate that is majority-black, would protect him from results in Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina’s somewhat conservative African-American Democrats, the campaign thought, trust Mr Biden and appreciate his fidelity to Barack Obama. That argument, which treated black voters as more monolithic than they are, looks less plausible after drubbings in the first two states and falling numbers in South Carolina, where Mr Biden still leads but by less than five points, compared with 20 points at the start of the year.

Mr Bloomberg may not be on the ballot, but a more mercenary version of his big-spending strategy is being road-tested in South Carolina—by Tom Steyer. The other billionaire in the Democratic race has spent nearly $19m in the state, building an extensive field operation, hiring prominent legislators as campaign advisers and ensuring that virtually no South Carolinian can open a web browser or mailbox without seeing a Steyer ad. Jerry Govan, who chairs South Carolina’s legislative black caucus and whose firm has been paid more than $40,000 by the Steyer campaign, says “there are no perfect candidates”, but that Mr Steyer represents “a good transition [and has] supported good causes”. Mr Steyer’s return on investment has been to eclipse Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren in South Carolina’s polls.

Ms Klobuchar’s presence in South Carolina, by contrast, is hardly detectable. A pro-Klobuchar SuperIf neither Mr Biden, Ms Klobuchar nor Mr Buttigieg can make the case that they are the best hope of the majority of Democrats—who do not yearn for socialism—they could still divide that part of the party into units so small that Mr Sanders is able to build up a commanding lead. That could set up a contest between Mr Sanders and Mr Bloomberg, and make the 2016 Democratic primary, which seemed bitter enough at the time, look like a love-in.



Read more: The Economist

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