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Biden aims for another strong showing in South Carolina's Democratic primary


Four years ago, after setbacks in Iowa and New Hampshire, Joe Biden needed South Carolina to claim his party's nomination and the state delivered.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Thanks to all of you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we just won. And we've won big because of you.


FADEL: Crucial to Biden's win in South Carolina were Black voters, who make up about two-thirds of the state's Democratic Party participants. Most of those voters are women. The Biden campaign is looking to replicate that success, South Carolina Public Radio's Maayan Schechter reports.

MAAYAN SCHECHTER, BYLINE: In 2020, Biden faced a long list of Democratic contenders. He scooped up 49% of the vote in the South Carolina primary. This time, he's the incumbent, so Congressman Jim Clyburn thinks Biden will get a very strong showing in next month's Democratic primary here.

JIM CLYBURN: He has a record, and it's a great record. And it's particularly a great record for South Carolina. So I do expect him to do much, much better.

SCHECHTER: A strong showing in South Carolina would validate Democrats' decision to make the state the first official nominating contest. And they're also hoping that if they can increase their support among Black voters here, it could provide some momentum for November. But some Democrats aren't convinced that Biden deserves their support.

CHRIS SALLEY: Well, if the turnout is low, Black voters are saying we're not energized.

SCHECHTER: That's 31-year-old Chris Salley, a former upstate county party chair. He didn't vote for Biden four years ago and he says he's not planning to again. Instead, next month, he plans to write in progressive activist Cornel West. Salley says he just doesn't see the economy working for everyone, since he knows people working multiple jobs.

SALLEY: The Black community, the young communities are still saying, you're not listening to us. We're not saying it's not possible to get our vote, but you need to listen to us. It's not guaranteed just by being a little bit better.

SCHECHTER: On the other hand, 66-year-old Susan Lewis (ph) says this election is too critical to sit home. Lewis said she's doing what she can to motivate others to show up on Election Day.

SUSAN LEWIS: I just could not sit at home and not do my part that I can do.

SCHECHTER: An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll from last month found Black voters like Lewis overwhelmingly approve of Biden. Most of those voters are over the age of 45. Antjuan Seawright is a 38-year-old South Carolina-based Democratic strategist. He has a message for Democrats whose concerns with Biden may lead them to stay home.

ANTJUAN SEAWRIGHT: I would much rather have Joe Biden in this position to deal with your concerns and your issues than the other side.

SCHECHTER: Seawright does think the party and Biden's surrogates need to sharpen their message and meet the voters where they are. Clyburn does agree and says some of the things the administration should highlight are lowering prices on insulin and forgiving some student loan debt.

CLYBURN: These are big, mammoth things, the biggest stuff since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program, and nobody is giving him credit for it because we weren't going out there telling them. We got to tell them.

SCHECHTER: And that's what the Biden-Harris campaign says they're trying to do. It's why the president spoke earlier this month at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the site of the 2015 racist mass shooting. It's why Vice President Kamala Harris was here on King Day. It's why Biden returns tomorrow for a party dinner.

For NPR News, I'm Maayan Schechter in Columbia, S.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF RINZ. AND MIDN8'S "BLUE BOULEVARD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Maayan Schechter
[Copyright 2024 South Carolina Public Radio]