Joe Biden desperately needed a win in South Carolina. His poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, and sub-par showing in Nevada, meant that nothing short of a blowout win in the Palmetto State would suffice for the former vice president. He poured his heart and soul into the state, pulling off the ol’ Joe routine to a tee.
It worked better than Biden himself could have imagined. Before a single ballot was counted, the networks called South Carolina for Biden. You may wonder why the election analysts were so confident? Two words: exit polls. Biden dominated with every grouping with the exception of voters under the age of 30 and Americans who were devoutly secular. South Carolinians aged 65 and older went for Biden by 44 points. African Americans, the Democratic party’s core constituency in the state, voted for Biden by 43 points. He won college gradates by an 18-point margin, those without college degrees by 27 points, and was the favorite candidate for Americans whose top voting issue was health care, income inequality, and climate change. Biden essentially took Tom Steyer’s $18 million in television advertising and shoveled it into the incinerator. The California billionaire dropped out this evening after a poor showing.
The resounding victory in South Carolina was as important for Biden’s surrogates and supporters as it was for Biden himself. 15 minutes after the race was called, old Biden pals like former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe trumpeting Joe Biden in the CNN studios as the most electable candidate to take on Donald Trump in November. You didn’t hear much of that kind of talk over the last month, when Biden’s three straight losses (two of them embarrassing) scrubbed the allure of inevitability surrounding his presidential campaign. Biden’s donors will be pleased as well — and given that Biden’s campaign was running short of cash, the candidate will be pleased that the money tree will start growing again.
This was a contest the vice president had to win. That he actually walked-the-walk will be a huge relief to the three-time presidential candidate, particularly since a loss would have doomed his ability to continue.
But Biden’s South Carolina victory isn’t the story. The story people should be talking about is whether Biden can use this triumph as a turning-of-the-page on an otherwise docile and unimpressive campaign. Bernie Sanders was blown out of the water tonight, but he is still considered the frontrunner. The proud democratic socialist is in great position to capitalize on Super Tuesday, scoring a double-digit lead in California, a nine-point lead in Texas, and a healthy lead in Massachusetts, where home-state Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is on its last legs. Will Biden’s blowout in South Carolina lead moderate Democrats to reassess his viability as the best alternative to the progressive Sanders? Will Biden’s performance cancel out the hundreds of millions of dollars former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent on TV, radio, and digital ads in the Super Tuesday states? Will South Carolina even matter for Biden in the end, particularly since his ground game in the Super Tuesday states has been measly?
We don’t know the answers to those questions yet. But we will soon find out.