Biden Leads the Pack As South Carolina Prepares to Head to the Polls

February 25, 2020 by Dan McCue
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign stop at Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Vice President Joe Biden holds the lead heading into the South Carolina presidential primary, opening up a 15 point gap with second place Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to a poll released Monday by Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling.

Biden has led the race in the Palmetto State since he announced his candidacy late last Spring. However, some recent polls have shown a slackening in his support after his campaign struggled to gain traction in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Plenty could happen to change things in the next five days, but for now it looks like Biden’s position might be shoring up a little bit in South Carolina,” pollsters wrote of their survey of 866 likely Democratic primary voters, reached Sunday and Monday by phone and text.

The poll also called South Carolina “a two-person race,” discounting billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, who saw a surge in the Palmetto State after the New Year. Steyer was favored by 7% of the likely voters surveyed, according to the PPP poll.

“Other recent polls have found Steyer’s support in the 15-20% range,” pollsters wrote. “If he has indeed collapsed, as our poll seems to suggest, it appears his former supporters are making their way to Biden and helping him to open a bigger lead in the state.”

Biden also maintained strong support with African Americans — 50% of those polled stood behind him — a critical voting bloc that makes up about two-thirds of South Carolina’s Democratic electorate. Sanders’ support among polled African Americans stood at about 21%, according to the poll.

The race is much closer among white voters, with Sanders and Biden receiving support from 22% and 20% of voters surveyed, respectively, according to the poll.

The most recent Winthrop University poll, released last Thursday, had Biden receiving the support of 24% of survey participants, while Sanders comes in at 19%. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who has invested heavily in South Carolina, is third with 15%.

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is next, with 7%; and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is fourth with 6%.

The remaining two candidates fell under 5%.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not on the South Carolina primary ballot.

Significantly, nearly one-in-five likely voters said they were still undecided as of last week.

“Flames seem to be licking through the cracks in Biden’s firewall,” said Scott Huffmon, director of the Winthrop Poll. “His support has dropped by double digits since the late September Winthrop Poll. Without a strong showing in South Carolina, Biden’s campaign will be limping into Super Tuesday.”

Huffmon said even a win by Biden could fall short, if it is not significant and decisive.

“Bernie Sanders, now second behind Biden, has more than doubled his support, both overall and among African-American voters,” Huffmon said. “With roughly one-fifth of voters remaining undecided, election day could hold some surprises. Elizabeth Warren has dropped by nearly 10 points since late September. One of the most significant movements came from Tom Steyer, whose ad blitz in the state took him from an unknown 2% in the late September Winthrop Poll to 15% now.”

Biden’s showing in the poll was helped by the support of black voters, who could account for more than 60% of the ballots cast in Saturday’s primary.

Biden received backing from nearly one-in-three African-American voters polled.

Steyer, whose hard sell to win black voters has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks, was second with this group of voters, coming in at 18%.

Sanders was third among African-American voters at 17%.

Only one-in-five black voters said they were undecided in the new poll.

The closeness in the poll among the top three candidates added an extra air of urgency to last-minute preparations for the presidential candidate debate in the Gaillard auditorium in Charleston, S.C. Tuesday night.

It is the last debate not only before the First-In-The-South primary, but also Super Tuesday, raising the stakes even further. It is being co-hosted by CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, and will be moderated by Norah O’Donnell of the “CBS Evening News” and Gayle King of “CBS This Morning,” with support from Margaret Brennen, Major Garrett and Bill Whitaker.

In addition to airing nationally on CBS stations from 8-10:15 p.m., the debate will air on BET, and stream on CBSN and Twitter via @CBSNews.

One behind the scenes note: Preparations for the big event were delayed by a wedding party that had been previously booked into the Gaillard Center and could not be rescheduled. As a result, work crews only got their run of the facility nine days ago.

In addition, House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn reportedly arranged for a no-vote day in Congress on Tuesday so Democratic presidential candidates could avoid a potential conflict.

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