CHARLESTON, S.C.—Former vice president Joe Biden was the only major candidate left in South Carolina after polls closed on Saturday, and for good reason. The 77-year-old father of up-and-coming Hollywood artist Hunter Biden was instantly declared the projected winner of the state's Democratic primary.
This marks the first such victory of Biden's decades-long career in politics, and it was a decisive one. With 56 percent of precincts reporting, Biden held a commanding 30-point lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I. Vt.), who was was projected to take second. The generic billionaire Tom Steyer took third place with 12 percent, which is below the 15-percent threshold required to receive convention delegates — and he officially dropped out of the presidential contest on Saturday just hours after the polls closed.
The former VP will emerge as the only candidate who can realistically challenge Sanders for the Democratic nomination heading into Super Tuesday on March 3—when 14 states, including California and Texas, will head to the polls. "This is now a two-person race," said former Obama adviser David Plouffe on MSNBC. "There's no doubt about that."
South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.)—the candidates who appeal most to wealthy white liberals who oppose racism—lagged behind Biden, Sanders, and Steyer, finishing in the single digits. Both struggled to win over the African-American voters who made up a majority of primary voters in the state, according to exit polls. There's no good reason why either of them shouldn't follow Steyer's lead and quit the race.
Biden's victory in South Carolina was largely expected, given his popularity among black voters. The former vice president also benefited from the well-timed endorsement of one of South Carolina's senior statesmen, House Majority Whip James Clyburn.
Clyburn introduced Biden at a celebratory rally in Columbia on Saturday after sounding off on CNN about how he wasn't going to "sit back idly and watch people mishandle this campaign."
Addressing the crowd of supporters in Columbia after his victory was announced, Biden could hardly contain his glee at having accomplished something that even weirdos like John Edwards and John Kerry managed to do before him. "All those of you who've been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign," said Biden, while setting up a contrast with Sanders heading into Super Tuesday. "The decisions Democrats make all across America the next few days will determine what this party stands for, what we believe, and what we'll get done."
Biden still has his work cut out for him. Absent a miracle on Super Tuesday, it is very likely that Sanders will soon amass enough convention delegates to ensure that no other candidate can surpass him. In delegate-rich California, for example, Sanders currently leads the field by double digits, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Sanders, addressing a crowd of supporters in Virginia on Saturday, congratulated Biden on his victory in South Carolina. "That will not be the only defeat," said Sanders. "There's a lot of states in this country and nobody wins them all." Earlier in the day, Sanders drew a massive crowd of more than 10,000 supporters in Boston, where he is poised to humiliate Warren by beating her in her own state on Super Tuesday.
President Donald J. Trump, an avid cable news consumer, weighed in on the South Carolina primary via the popular social networking website Twitter. "Sleepy Joe Biden's victory in the South Carolina Democrat Primary should be the end of Mini Mike Bloomberg's Joke of a campaign," the president tweeted. "After the worst debate performance in the history of presidential debates, Mini Mike now has Biden split up his very few voters, taking many away!"
As always, he makes a great point. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has yet to appear on a primary ballot but has already spent more than $400 million on his campaign, will almost certainly siphon much-needed votes from Biden on Super Tuesday, which will only strengthen Sanders's position as the Democratic Party frontrunner.