South Carolina Primary

Live Results And Analysis

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Joe Biden was projected to win the South Carolina primary shortly after polls closed Saturday night. The victory is a much-needed boost for the former vice president’s campaign.

Read more highlights from our live coverage below.

Next Up: Super Tuesday

That’s a wrap on our South Carolina primary coverage.

But it’s only a brief break. We’ll have a separate page for Super Tuesday updates that’ll launch tomorrow morning. Join us then!

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Biden and Sanders Spar Ahead Of Super Tuesday

Former Vice President Joe Biden went on the offensive this morning, after a decisive victory in South Carolina that he says gives his campaign new life.

Across a slew of media appearances, Biden took aim at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who now holds a slight lead in the delegate count for the Democratic nomination.

“[Voters are] not looking for revolution, they’re looking for results, they’re looking for change,” Biden told NBC’s Chuck Todd, referencing Sanders’ call for a “political revolution.”

The former vice president says he’s looking forward to people looking at Sanders’ record “as closely as they have looked at mine the past five months.”

Biden added that his campaign has raised $5 million in the past 24 hours, capitalizing on his strong performance in the first Southern primary. Biden won almost half of all the votes cast in South Carolina’s primary.

In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Biden reiterated an attack from his victory speech last night.

“I think the Democratic Party is looking for a Democrat — not a socialist, not a former Republican — a Democrat,” Biden said.

Sanders is an avowed democratic socialist. Mike Bloomberg was a Republican when he was first elected mayor of New York City. (Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was also once a former registered Republican.)

When asked how he was planning to combat Bloomberg’s latest showing of financial force, a three-minute recorded video that will air across two networks tonight, Biden shrugged it off.

“I think money can buy a lot but it can’t hide your record,” Biden said.

Still, despite the South Carolina performance, Biden faces a daunting task on Super Tuesday. Sanders has been focusing his efforts on California and Texas, and polling fairly well in both states, which together allocate about a sixth of all the pledged delegates in the primary.

In an appearance on ABC’s Face The Nation, Sanders projected confidence about Tuesday’s results and hit Biden for accepting money from a number of billionaires.

“We don’t have a super PAC like Joe Biden. I don’t go to rich people’s homes like Joe Biden,” Sanders said. “This is a campaign of working people and by working people. And I’m extraordinarily proud of that.”

Sanders’ campaign announced this morning that it raised an impressive $46.5 million in February alone.

A total of 1,338 delegates are at stake when voters go to the polls on Tuesday.

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Takeaways From Biden’s Win

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s decisive victory last night in South Carolina not only reinvigorates his campaign, but also helps make the case for Biden as the main alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Still, the former vice president faces a formidable challenge ahead of Super Tuesday: He faces structural disadvantages going into the March 3 contests in 14 states; he’s spending far less money than Sanders; and he’s not competing on the airwaves in California where 30 percent of all delegates are at stake.

Here are more takeaways from Biden’s win in South Carolina.

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Podcast: Biden Wins Big In South Carolina. Now What?

With the results in South Carolina settled, we’re out with a new episode of the NPR Politics Podcast wrapping up what happened and looking forward to what comes next.

With Super Tuesday just days away, the campaigns won’t have a lot of time to capitalize on the momentum coming out of South Carolina — not to mention that early voting in states like California has been underway for weeks.

Listen to the episode here:

For daily political analysis, subscribe here.

— Eric McDaniel, NPR Politics Podcast Editor
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Biden: ‘We Are Very Much Alive’

A clearly reenergized Joe Biden thundered Saturday night that his campaign is “very much alive,” as results streamed in showing a decisive victory in South Carolina.

“Just days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this candidacy dead,” Biden said to a cheering crowd in Columbia, S.C., that interrupted him at one point with chants of “Let’s go, Joe!”

With 58% of precincts reporting, Biden has almost half of all votes cast, with the nearest Democrat behind him being Sen. Bernie Sanders with about 19%.

In his victory speech, Biden didn’t mention Sanders by name but made a number of clear references to him.

“If the Democrats want a nominee who is a Democrat, a lifelong Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat, join us,” said Biden.

Sanders is an independent who caucuses with Democrats in Congress. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are also former registered Republicans.

In his speech, Biden took aim at the more progressive wing of the party, and Sanders by proxy.

“Most Americans don’t want the promise of revolution,” said Biden. “They want results.”

Biden was carried to victory by African American voters, with exit polls showing black support for the former vice president at about 60%. That may have been aided by a key endorsement from Rep. James Clyburn, who Biden thanked multiple times in his speech.

“You brought us back!” Biden said to Clyburn as the speech opened.

Biden also alluded to President Trump.

“This isn’t just a battle for the nomination of the Democratic Party,” Biden said. “This is a battle for the soul of America.”

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Major development

Steyer Suspends His Campaign

Tom Steyer ended his presidential campaign Saturday night after a disappointing finish in South Carolina, the state on which he staked his presidential campaign.

"I said if I didn’t see a path to winning, that I’d suspend my campaign,” Steyer told supporters, “and honestly, I can’t see a path where I can win the presidency."

Steyer had campaigned heavily in South Carolina — holding the most events out of any other current presidential candidate and massively outspending the field on advertisements in the state.

Despite gaining several powerful endorsements in South Carolina, including senior state legislator Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Steyer was unable to perform well in the state. Current results have him third behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders and below the 15% threshold needed to get delegates.

The businessman had failed to secure any delegates in the first three presidential contests.

Before ending his campaign on Saturday, Steyer had already spent over $41 million on advertisements in Super Tuesday states, according to data through Feb. 27 from Advertising Analytics.

After Steyer finished speaking in South Carolina, campaign staffers gathered on stage, and a national campaign director thanked them. Brandon Upson told the crowd that many of the staff had never worked on a national campaign before and even though their candidate isn’t moving forward they still found "their version of victory."

This post has been updated. Juana Summers and Sam Gringlas contributed.

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‘Never Give Up’: Optimism And Confidence At Steyer’s Party

At billionaire businessman Tom Steyer’s primary night party at a chic event space in Columbia, a live DJ is entertaining the crowd and open bar is keeping the drinks flowing as results come in.

Despite an early call for former Vice President Joe Biden, the supporters here said they are still optimistic Tom Steyer’s campaign will go on after South Carolina. According to The Associated Press, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has beaten out Steyer for the second-place spot.

William Simmons, a 56-year-old veteran and retired science teacher wearing an Operation Desert Storm ball cap, said he voted for Steyer on Saturday.

“I was drawn to his spirit and his character, drawn to his stance for truth and justice, and that’s what I stand for,” he said.

Simmons says he’s confident Steyer still has a shot.

“You never give up, so we’re going to keep going forward and believe,” he says.

A few tables over, Claire Curry said she retired recently, and so she started volunteering for the Steyer campaign.

“To me, he has integrity,” she said. “And he’s willing to work at what he’s saying. If he says he’s going to do something, he means it and he does it.”

Curry says she’s not satisfied with how the early contests have gone so far, but she says she can work with any candidate who gets elected, apart from one or two about whom she laughed and said she didn’t want to name.

Gloria Bromell Tinubu, who has served as an adviser to the Steyer campaign, said she first got to know Steyer a year ago before he was a candidate, when he was pushing a campaign to impeach Donald Trump.

She says the structure of the debates has stymied Steyer’s ability to get his policy ideas out in front of a national audience.

“I want him to get his message out more. Tuesday’s right around the corner, I don’t know that we have enough time,” she said, referring to the upcoming Super Tuesday contests. “I’m hopeful tonight will keep him in the race.”

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If Black Voters Are With You, ‘You Have A Chance’ At The Nomination

As he had predicted for months leading up to Saturday’s primary, Joe Biden won South Carolina, according to projections, and he did it with broad support from African American voters.

Biden won about 60% of black voters in South Carolina, according to CNN exit polls. The next closest Democrat was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won fewer than 20% of those voters.

“Black voters are the base of the Democratic Party,” said Anton Gunn, Barack Obama’s political director in South Carolina for the 2008 campaign.

“They have kind of demonstrated that over and over again, that if they are with you, you have a chance at the nomination and a chance to win the overall election,” Gunn said after Biden’s projected win was announced.

A key component of Biden’s support from black voters may have been the endorsement this week from Rep. James Clyburn, one of the most powerful African Americans in Congress. Almost half of all voters Saturday said Clyburn’s endorsement was the most important or one of several important factors in their decisions.

South Carolina was the first primary state with a majority-black electorate, and Super Tuesday states are more racially diverse, as well. The Biden campaign hopes that bodes for more strong results.

In South Carolina, Biden was also buoyed by older voters. Almost 60% of voters over 65 years old supported the former vice president, according to CNN.

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Obama’s Endorsement Can Wait, Says A Former Campaign Aide

Former President Barack Obama shouldn’t endorse a Democratic candidate during the primary season, said Anton Gunn, his former political director for South Carolina during the 2008 campaign.

Gunn told NPR that he thinks it’s more important for the primary to run its course before Obama offers his support.

"Barack Obama is a statesman, and he knows the benefit of a competitive primary. It actually is what helped him to be a successful nominee and also to win the election in 2008,” Gunn said.

Gunn said Obama thinks a challenging primary will help “prepare” the eventual Democratic nominee for the rigors of the general election. “He wants this to be a competitive primary process, and he’s going to stay out of the way,” Gunn said.

Obama has not indicated whether he plans to endorse a presidential candidate before the Democratic National Convention in June. Gunn said Obama could have an important role to play at the convention in the event there is no clear nominee.

"If we end up at a brokered convention because no one is able to get to 1,991 delegates on the first ballot, Barack Obama is going to have to be that common voice that helps to broker the convention,” Gunn said. “And that’s why I think he’ll stay out of it until the process works itself out."

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Biden’s Win By The Numbers

Former Vice President Joe Biden is projected to win the South Carolina primary, according to The Associated Press. Biden appears to have won a broad coalition, especially black voters.

As expected, more than half of South Carolina Democratic voters were black, and Biden won 60% of them, according to exit polls, as of 8 p.m. ET. (It’s important to note that the exit polls will change as more waves come in and as they are matched to results.)

Importantly, as it relates to black voters, that endorsement from Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American congressman, made a big difference. Half of voters said Clyburn’s endorsement, which came Wednesday for Biden, was an important factor in their vote. Biden won those voters overwhelmingly.

More than a third of voters said they made up their minds in the last few days, and Biden won them by more than 20 points over Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Among white voters, Biden also hung in, winning about a quarter of them, the same as Sanders. Biden, however, still lost white voters without a college degree, a group that Biden has promised he would do well with.

Here’s a look at the numbers we have so far:

When voters made up their mind?

  • Last few days (36%): Biden 43%, Sanders 20%, Steyer 12%, Warren 12%
  • Earlier than that (63%): Biden 48%, Sanders 22%, Steyer 11%, Buttigieg 11%

Importance of Clyburn endorsement:

  • Most important (26%): Biden 57%, Sanders 16%, Steyer 14%
  • One of several important factors (22%): Biden 55%, Sanders 15%, Steyer 13%
  • Minor factor (12%): Biden 39%, Sanders 20%, Steyer 13%, Warren 12%, Buttigieg 10%
  • Not a factor (27%): Sanders 32%, Biden 23%, Buttigieg 15%, Steyer 13%, Warren 10%


  • Men (43%): Biden 43%, Sanders 27%, Steyer 10%
  • Women (57%): Biden 46%, Sanders 17%, Steyer 14%


  • Black (56%): Biden 60%, Sanders 17%, Steyer 14%
  • White (40%): Biden 26%, Sanders 25%, Warren 12%, Steyer 10%


  • 18-29 (11%): Sanders 46%, Biden 24%, Warren 12%, Buttigieg 10%
  • 30-44 (18%): Biden 31%, Sanders 29%, Warren 14%, Buttigieg 12%, Steyer 11%
  • 45-64 (42%): Biden 48%, Sanders 17%, Steyer 14%, Buttigieg 9%
  • 65+ (29%): Biden 58%, Steyer 14%, Sanders 13%

Education and race:

  • White college graduates (23%): Biden 28%, Sanders 21%, Buttigieg 19%, Warren 13%
  • White noncollege graduates (17%): Sanders 31%, Biden 23%, Buttigieg 14%, Steyer 12%, Warren 11%
  • Nonwhite college graduates (17%): Biden 52%, Sanders 18%, Steyer 14%
  • Nonwhite noncollege graduates (45%): Biden 60%, Sanders 19%, Steyer 14%


  • Very liberal (20%): Biden 39%, Sanders 30%, Warren 16%, Steyer 10%
  • Somewhat liberal (30%): Biden 37%, Sanders 25%, Steyer 12%, Buttigieg 12%, Warren 11%
  • Moderate (40%): Biden 52%, Sanders 14%, Steyer 14%, Buttigieg 10%
  • Conservative (9%): Biden 44%, Sanders 23%, Steyer 12%
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Castro Says Warren’s Campaign Is ‘Built To Last’

Julián Castro, a former 2020 presidential candidate who is now backing Elizabeth Warren, told NPR that her investment in time and resources in upcoming contests on March 3 will pay off.

“What I see is a campaign that is built to last,” said Castro, who was secretary of housing and urban development in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet and was a former mayor of San Antonio

He acknowledged that former Vice President Joe Biden had “a good night” in South Carolina, but said there were “plenty of opportunities” for Massachusetts Sen. Warren to pick up delegates next week, arguing that Warren “has greater reach” into various constituencies within the Democratic Party.

Castro was on the road in his home state of Texas campaigning for Warren, who shifted her focus to the Lone Star State with an event in Houston on Saturday after campaigning in South Carolina earlier this week. Texas is one of the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday.

Warren is under pressure to show she can post a win after she finished third in Iowa, fourth in New Hampshire and fourth in Nevada. It’s unclear where she will finish in South Carolina, but she spent far less time and resources in the state than other candidates did. She has had some break-out moments in recent debates, but Warren — who is pushing progressive policies — has not been able to pull away significant support away from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Her home state of Massachusetts also votes on Tuesday. Sanders held a rally in Boston on Saturday with more than 13,000 attendees, according to his campaign. A poll by WBUR released Friday showed Sanders with a significant lead over Warren.

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Biden Pulls Into 2nd In Delegate Race

The real prize in the primary contests is delegates, which are required to clinch the nomination.

So far, The Associated Press has estimated the allocation of more than half of South Carolina’s 54 Democratic delegates.

Biden has nabbed 25 from Saturday’s contest, so far. That vaults him ahead of Pete Buttigieg into second place in the overall hunt for delegates.

With his second-place finish tonight, Bernie Sanders received at least six delegates from South Carolina. That boosts his overall lead to 51.

Here’s the overall delegate count as of now. A reminder: We have a long way to go, given that 1,991 delegates are needed to secure the Democratic nomination. About a third of the overall delegates will be allocated from the states voting on Super Tuesday, in just three days’ time.

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Sanders Will Finish 2nd, AP Projects

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is projected to finish in second place in the South Carolina Democratic primary, according to The Associated Press.

In the early results, Sanders is far behind Biden. With nearly one-tenth of precincts reporting, Biden has about 52% of the vote, while Sanders has about 17%.

So far, they are the only candidates over the threshold of 15% required to get statewide delegates. It’s a disappointment for billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who had been hoping to make a mark after making a huge investment in the state.

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McAuliffe, Ex-DNC Chair And Virginia Governor, Endorses Biden

Terry McAuliffe, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee and governor of Virginia, announced on CNN that he’s officially backing Joe Biden for president.

“I’m going to endorse Joe Biden," McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe, who is a CNN political contributor, announced his support minutes after the network projected the former vice president won the South Carolina primary.

He said that his decision came down to “an electability issue” and that he would campaign with Biden in Norfolk on Sunday. Virginia is one of the 14 states voting on March 3, Super Tuesday.

"I think Joe Biden has the best chance of winning Virginia in the general election,” McAuliffe said.

He pointed out that two Democratic freshmen from Virginia who are on the ballot in 2020 — Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria — would be impacted by who is at the top of the ticket and said that was a key factor in his decision.

McAuliffe said he hopes some of the Democratic candidates who didn’t do well on Saturday will decide to drop out Sunday. He name-checked Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer, saying that if they don’t think they have a pathway to win, they should withdraw from the race before voters go to the polls on Tuesday.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine endorsed Biden on Friday.

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President Trump Tweets About Biden Win

Moments after the race was called by multiple news outlets, President Trump added his own commentary on former Vice President Joe Biden’s apparent win. Trump taunted former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg who was not on the ballot in South Carolina and has based his campaign around making a splash on Super Tuesday next week.

“Sleepy Joe Biden’s victory in the South Carolina Democrat Primary should be the end of Mini Mike Bloomberg’s Joke of a campaign,” Trump tweeted.

In recent speeches, Trump seems to have taken particular glee in mocking Bloomberg. The billionaire businessman has already spent more on television advertising than President Obama did in his entire re-election campaign in 2012, and he has promised to spend as much as it takes to defeat Trump in November whether he is the nominee or not.

Trump’s reelection campaign also seized on the projected result, saying it proves “what a hot mess the Democrat primaries are, as the field once again descends into chaos heading into Super Tuesday.”

Trump is running on “his solid record of achievement for all Americans,” Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, said in a statement, “and will wipe the floor with whichever Democrat is unlucky enough to emerge.”

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Meanwhile In Virginia: Sanders Supporters Want Biden To Drop Out

Joe Biden may have won South Carolina, but supporters of Bernie Sanders say it’s time for the former vice president to drop out of the race.

Long winding lines of Sanders supporters snaked around Virginia Wesleyan University campus ahead of the Vermont senator’s rally in Virginia Beach.

Dale McCantz, who said he has supported Sanders from the beginning, sported a sweatshirt with the words “Progressives vs. Everybody.”

“The progressive ideology has been under assault from different people, whether Republicans or the Democratic establishment, even the mainstream media,” he said. “There’s a bias in showing progressives in a negative light.”

Speaking before the South Carolina results were in, McCantz said that state’s primary was a “make-or-break” moment for Biden.

“And he needs to be broke,” McCantz quipped.

“He’s really just riding the coattails of his time with Barack Obama, and he’s not coming up with any new policies or anything that’s going to speak to the common people. Senator Sanders, he’s the one that’s actually saying, ‘I’m going to address certain things, by hook or crook, you know, we gotta beat everybody up, to get people to look and take care of people inside the country.’ And that’s really what speaks to me,” McCantz said.

“Riding on Obama’s coattails” was a common refrain among this crowd. If enthusiasm for a Sanders victory is top of mind, the hope that Biden will soon drop out seems to be a close second.

Jenna Farnam, 22, said she admires Sanders for his “history of standing up for the little man, a history you can trust in.”

As for Biden, she says he lacks Sanders’ passion. “He’s very moderate, doesn’t bring a lot of new ideas to the table and when I see him leading in the polls in certain areas, I think it’s just the familiarity of somebody [people are] comfortable with or a time that they were comfortable with – the Obama administration. But I don’t think he really brings any new ideas to the table to make any effective changes.”

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This Is Joe Biden’s 1st-Ever Primary Win

In his third run for the presidency, four states into the Democratic nominating process of 2020, South Carolina is finally delivering former vice president Joe Biden his first ever primary or caucus win, The Associated Press projects.

His first campaign ended in September 1987, not even the election year yet, after he was unable to tamp down a plagiarism scandal.

“There will be other presidential campaigns, and I will be there,” Biden pledged at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol in 1987.

His second campaign did make it into the election year, 2008, just barely. He dropped out after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses.

“Let’s make something clear here, I ain’t going away,” Biden said.

And he didn’t, thanks to a freshman senator named Barack Obama, who beat him in the caucuses and went on to win the nomination and pick Biden to be his vice president. Biden’s association with Obama served him well as he campaigned extensively in South Carolina, a state where African Americans make up a large part of the electorate.

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Major development

Biden Wins South Carolina Primary, AP Projects

Former Vice President Joe Biden is projected to win the South Carolina primary, according to The Associated Press.

It’s a much-needed boost for his Biden’s presidential nomination hopes, after he underperformed in the first two nominating contests and finished second in Nevada. He has often pointed to the diversity of the state as a reason he would perform well, saying he was the candidate who could best draw African American support.

Asked at the last presidential debate whether he would drop out if he did not win in South Carolina, Biden was blunt.

"I will win South Carolina," Biden said.

For months, polling showed Biden with a huge lead in the state, but the race seemed to be tightening in recent weeks as Sen. Bernie Sanders built momentum.

Rep. James Clyburn’s endorsement earlier this week may have provided a push at the end. About a quarter of voters said the endorsement was a critical factor as they made their decision, according to exit polls.

Three-quarters of South Carolina primary voters said they had a favorable view of the former vice president, 20 points higher than his two top rivals coming into this contest — wealthy venture capitalist Tom Steyer and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter Explains Why She’s For Steyer

Senior South Carolina state congresswoman Gilda Cobb-Hunter explained she is backing billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, saying he is a “real businessman” compared to President Trump.

Cobb-Hunter — who has served in the South Carolina state legislature since 1992 and is the current president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators — usually refrains from endorsing a presidential candidate. But this time, she is a paid adviser to the Steyer campaign.

She told NPR’s Michel Martin that Steyer’s successful career as both a businessman and a progressive advocate makes him an ideal candidate.

When asked about front-runner Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Cobb-Hunter didn’t rule out that the senator could win the presidency. "I am not now and never have been in the anti-Bernie camp,” Cobb-Hunter said. “My embrace of Tom Steyer is simply an embrace of a man who closely mirrors my positions on issues, but there is no perfect candidate."

But Cobb-Hunter was skeptical that former Vice President Joe Biden could go the distance.

"The vice president is a very good man. I like him a lot. I know him, but he cannot win, in my view, as president. He doesn’t have the staying power,” Cobb-Hunter said. “And I think there are people around him who know that. And it makes me wonder, if you know, that going in, why are you doing what you do to try to force this man into an area where he is going to be decimated?"

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What The Numbers Tell Us So Far

There was one pretty good sign early on in the night for former Joe Biden: South Carolina voters like him.

In early exit polls, three-quarters of South Carolina primary voters said they had a favorable view of the former vice president, 20 points higher than his two top rivals coming into this contest — wealthy venture capitalist Tom Steyer and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Other numbers of note Saturday in early exit polls, as of 6:45 p.m. ET, and the percentages will change at the margins:

  • About half of voters said Rep. Jim Clyburn’s endorsement (of Biden) was an important factor in their vote, 24% said it was the most important factor.
  • Fewer people than in past contests said they support a government plan to replace private health insurance — 50% support, 44% oppose. Iowa was 57% support, New Hampshire was 58%, Nevada was 62%.
  • Most voters, as expected in South Carolina, were black — 55% black, 41% white, 3% Hispanic/Latino
  • There were not many new voters — 81% said they had voted previously in a primary.
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Rep. Clyburn Says Biden Needs To ‘Retool’ Campaign

Rep. James Clyburn, whose late endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden could end up making a huge difference in Saturday’s primary, says that if Biden wins, then the candidate will need to reflect on how to change strategies going forward.

“We will have to sit down and get serious about how we retool this campaign,” Clyburn told CNN on Saturday afternoon. “We need to do some retooling in the campaign, no question about that. I did not feel free to speak about it or to even deal with it inside because I had not committed to his candidacy. I have now, and I’m all-in and I’m not going to sit back idly and watch people mishandle this campaign.”

Critics of Biden’s campaign have not been hard to come by, after poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. Clyburn added that the former vice president needs to focus more on fundraising.

“I think he will have to do better, no question about that,” Clyburn said.

Exit polls show that the congressman’s endorsement could help toward that end on Saturday. About a quarter of primary voters said the endorsement was a “critical factor” in whom they decided to support, according to CNN’s exit polls.

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Steyer Held The Most Events In South Carolina

With polls closing at 7 p.m. ET, several candidates gunning for strong finishes held back-to-back final events in the Palmetto State over the past few days.

Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer has held the most events in the state — 54 as of Saturday afternoon, according to the Post and Courier’s tracker.

He has hosted events in the state every day since the Nevada caucuses. Even before, throughout February, Steyer consistently held the highest amount of campaign events there. He has dropped almost $24 million in advertising there as of Feb. 25.

After winning the Nevada caucuses, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has the potential to do better than originally expected — especially considering he lost South Carolina by a wide margin in 2016.

Sanders has held four rallies in just the past three days, bringing his total to 41 events. That’s tied with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Like Steyer, former Vice President Joe Biden has been campaigning consistently in the state since Nevada. But he has held fewer events — 30 as of Feb. 29.

While Steyer and Sanders are hoping to secure delegates Saturday night, Biden leads in South Carolina polls. But the pressure on him to perform well is high after poor finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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Trump Backs Off ‘Hoax’ Language After Coronavirus Death

There was a rally-like atmosphere at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday afternoon when President Trump spoke. But he didn’t repeat an attack line he used on Democrats at a Friday night South Carolina rally where he said “politicizing” the coronavirus outbreak was “their new hoax.”

Trump went straight to CPAC from a somber press conference at the White House where he confirmed the first death in the United States from coronavirus. The patient was a man in his late 50s in Washington state. “Additional cases in the United States are likely,” Trump said, but also urged Americans to go about their daily lives because the risk remains low.

(See NPR’s coronavirus coverage here.)

All day long, Trump’s campaign aides had been pushing back on the suggestion that he had called coronavirus a hoax.

At the press conference, Trump was pressed on his comments from Friday night and defended his word choice, saying he didn’t regret it. “I’m not talking about what’s happening here,” said Trump, who was flanked by public health experts who talked about the spread of the virus. “I’m talking about what they’re doing,” Trump said, emphasizing he had been referring to Democrats who have criticized the administration’s response.

“That’s the hoax. That’s just a continuation of the hoax, whether it’s the impeachment hoax or the ’Russia, Russia, Russia’ hoax. This is what I’m talking about, certainly not referring to this. How could anyone refer to this? This is very serious stuff,” Trump said.

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Lagging, Warren Gives Last-Minute Pitch To Undecided Voters

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is simply not polling well in South Carolina. Currently, she’s at around 6%, according to the RealClearPolitics average in that state. So with hours to go until the primary, she has been out attempting to boost her support as much as possible.

In a couple of cases, she had some success. At a Friday event in Greenville, Tamika Thompson showed up undecided.

“I’m just trying to see who’s being genuine in their appearances and their actions with people, because a lot of the times the candidates really just come to get your vote,” she said. “And then when it’s time to deal with issues after they’re already in, you can’t access them again.”

Thompson had already been out with Sen. Bernie Sanders but came away unimpressed.

“There was no new information, which was kind of what I was looking for. It just kind of felt like the same speech over and over and over,” she said.

Warren gave an abbreviated version of her stump speech in Greenville, pitching a wealth tax and the programs she hopes it can pay for. At times, she also stressed racial inequality (“How about we stop exploiting the people who do [child care] work, largely African American women and Latinas? We raise the wages of every child care worker and preschool teacher in America”).

That speech impressed Thompson, who is black.

“A lot of the candidates have been just kind of reaching, grabbing for black votes, but not really talking about black people,” she said. “So it was important to me that she seemed genuine. She seemed serious. So I think I’ve made up my mind.”

Something similar happened for Diane McNinch in Columbia on Saturday morning. She showed up to a Warren speech undecided. Like many Democrats, she’s concerned about electability: “I just don’t want to waste my vote.”

But afterward, she had decided. “It’s in the details, and she has the details. And I’m a detail-oriented person,” she said. “I’m going to go vote.”

It’s a picture of both the effectiveness of retail politics and the slow process that it can be: On the one hand, a Warren appearance can clearly help a voter make up their mind. On the other hand, these events had 200 to 300 attendees each, meaning they could only go so far in securing last-minute votes for her.

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Voting Going Smoothly So Far Throughout South Carolina

As of midafternoon, primary voting throughout South Carolina appeared to be proceeding without any serious problems. There were no reports of major machine malfunctions or of other disruptions as Democrats cast ballots in about 2,300 precincts.

South Carolina is the first state to be using all new voting equipment this year, and election experts are watching closely to see how it goes.

The state replaced its touch screen voting machines with ones that produce paper ballots — in part to address security concerns about hackers or others trying to tamper with results. Many other states have made similar switches to paper-based systems, and about a dozen have replaced all or most of their equipment.

"Things seem to be going reasonably smoothly," reported Duncan Buell, a computer scientist at the University of South Carolina and a member of the Richland County elections board. He said he saw few lines or backups in visits to about 20 precincts.

Buell said there were some machine failures, including several precincts where one of the electronic devices that voters use to mark their ballots was broken. Some scanners used to count the paper ballots had also jammed.

But Buell said none of the malfunctions appeared to be causing any backups, in part because the precincts had other machines for voters to use. Minor malfunctions are normal in every election.

Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the state Election Commission, said that voters had encountered few problems so far throughout the state.

"We’re not hearing about lines out there or unacceptable wait times," he said, adding that county election officials were reporting steady or very light turnout.

By comparison, the state saw a record number of absentee ballots — 75,000 — turned in as of Saturday morning, and more were arriving throughout the day.

In the 2016 Democratic primary, about 54,000 absentee ballots were cast. Whitmire said that it’s too soon to tell whether that means overall turnout will be higher than normal or whether more people are choosing to vote by absentee ballot, a trend seen across the country.

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South Carolina Democratic Party: No Evidence Of ‘Operation Chaos’

The executive director of South Carolina’s Democratic Party said there’s no “mass evidence” of Republicans participating in the state’s Democratic primary, based on a review of absentee ballots.

President Trump was in Charleston on Friday night and encouraged his supporters to take advantage of South Carolina’s “open primary” rules and vote in the Democratic primary for the candidate who would be easiest for him to beat, a move being called “Operation Chaos.” South Carolina has an open primary, which means that a voter doesn’t need to be registered to a party to vote in that party’s primary.

“The president came to South Carolina last night and basically urged Republicans to go vote in our primary,” Jay Parmley, the executive director, told reporters. “I think he should be doing more important things right now, but he chose to do that.”

Parmley said that the South Carolina Republican Party “has been our partner in this” and that “they have insisted very emphatically that they would not encourage Republicans to vote in our primaries.”

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said that roughly 80,000 absentee ballots were cast in the 2020 primary. He says that’s a significant increase from 2016 and 2018.

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Steyer To South Carolina Supporters: Let’s ‘Run Through The Tape’

As voters headed to the polls Saturday, Tom Steyer stopped by a polling location before visiting his campaign headquarters in Columbia, where he thanked volunteers who were headed out to canvass.

He talked about his enduring affection for the people he has met in South Carolina and about how there is a “huge need to change” and “the way to do it is at the polls.”

“You run through the tape,” an ebullient Steyer told the crowd. “That is exactly where we are today. We have come all the way, we can see the end of the race, but you don’t run through the end of the race, you run right through the tape. And that’s what we’re here to do today, to close the deal.”

We spoke with Steyer as he shook hands and posed for pictures with the volunteers gathered there. He said he feels good about the work his team has put in.

When asked where he’s headed next, Steyer said he’s going to Selma, Ala. Alabama votes on Super Tuesday.

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Bloomberg Spends Saturday Focused On Super Tuesday

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in the middle of a Super Tuesday-focused campaign swing through the states where he will appear on the ballot for the first time, on March 3.

In the closing days ahead of the potentially decisive day for the Democratic nomination, Bloomberg is focused predominantly on contests in the South and in states where his multi-billion-dollar personal fortune has been able to establish campaign infrastructure in places usually ignored by traditional Democrats with lesser resources.

He has made campaign stops in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee in recent days, and will spend Saturday in Virginia and North Carolina. On Saturday evening, Bloomberg will speak at a North Carolina dinner held by the state Democratic Party. The only other candidate planning to attend is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Other campaigns are sending surrogates to the event.

North Carolina is the third-most delegate-rich state, after California and Texas, that is voting on Super Tuesday, and Bloomberg has paid significant attention to the state. His first campaign field office was opened in Charlotte, and his campaign boasts a higher organizing presence in the state than any other campaign, with 125 paid staffers and many more volunteers.

Bloomberg’s campaign ad spending in Charlotte has also put him on many TV screens across the state line in South Carolina, giving the former mayor a presence in the campaign there even though he is not on the ballot in Saturday’s primary.

The campaign also unveiled Friday what they call his “closing argument” ad that is airing in 27 states, including every Super Tuesday state. The ad obliquely acknowledges his widely panned debate performances by focusing on his record of accomplishments instead, concluding: “So ask yourself: Do you want a debater, or a doer?”

— Susan Davis, NPR Congressional Correspondent
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Biden’s Crucial Moment Arrives

Joe Biden’s campaign sounds confident with a must-win South Carolina contest upon it.

On the eve of the primary, the former vice president reflected on this moment.

“South Carolina has an incredible history in presidential politics … This state lifted Bill Clinton to the presidency. This state lifted Barack Obama to the presidency,” Biden said, addressing a crowd gathered at the campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg. “And now once again, this state holds in its hands, literally, especially the state’s African American community, the power to determine who the next nominee of the Democratic Party is going to be.”

A lot has been written about the significance of the state for Biden, with many describing it as his firewall. An audience member even asked him: “Would you mind for the next four years or eight years that you tell everybody that you are from South Carolina?” The audience erupted in laughter. “I don’t mind that,” Biden jokingly responded.

His home state of Delaware might mind, but his campaign certainly won’t.

— Monika Evstatieva, NPR Producer
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S.C. Hands Democrats A Challenge: The Strong Job Market

The most recent Democratic debate started out with a question for Sen. Bernie Sanders, but it was a question any Democratic nominee would have to think about.

"We haven’t had a national unemployment rate this low for this long in 50 years. Here in South Carolina, the unemployment rate is even lower," said CBS moderator Norah O’Donnell. "How will you convince voters that a Democratic socialist can do better than President Trump with the economy?"

Not all of the candidates call themselves Democratic socialists, of course. But Donald Trump is running for reelection amid a strong economy — unemployment is low and consumer confidence has been high.

Read and hear the original story from NPR’s Weekend Edition.

And the conventional wisdom is that a strong economy helps buoy incumbent presidents to reelection — for decades, election prediction models have factored in economic indicators like unemployment and GDP growth. (Trump knows this, and he often trumpets it at his rallies and on Twitter.)

And the recently-strong economy is a particularly appropriate topic in South Carolina, which is tied with two other states for the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 2.3%. And two of the other three early states, New Hampshire and Iowa, are also among the 10 states with the lowest unemployment. That has made these early states a test for Democrats of their economic messages amid a good job market in particular.

Making the case for big changes

Sanders responded to that first debate question with the economic pitch that has been his standby for years now: The American economy has fundamental problems, chief among them inequality.

"You’re right. The economy is doing really great for people like Mr. Bloomberg and other billionaires," he said. "But you know what, for the ordinary American, things are not so good."

Economist Jared Bernstein says there is something to the idea that there are still underlying economic problems. He served as chief economist to former Vice President Joe Biden but has not publicly endorsed a candidate.

"There are far more families than you would think — given an unemployment rate that’s at a 50-year low — that have tremendous difficulties making ends meet on what they earn," he said. "These arguments about the gap between earnings and needs, I think, provide a real opening for Democrats.”

And there is some evidence for this: Workers are not sharing in growth nearly as much as they used to — more of that new income has gone to shareholders, for example.

Candidates also often bring up the tens of millions of uninsured Americans on the campaign trail, or the fact that some Americans need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, or a desire to raise workers’ wages. Indeed, in South Carolina, an abundance of jobs exists alongside one of the lowest state median incomes in the nation.

One question then for voters is how squeezed they feel. Attending an Orangeburg County Democrats meeting, Kenneth McCaster said he isn’t worried about his own economic well-being.

"Some of us, you know, like I would say for me, you know, I work three or four jobs," he said. "So, you know, the economy is fine for me. But there’s some other people that are actually suffering because of the economy."

Talking about changing the economy structurally, as more-progressive candidates in particular often highlight, can also mean talking about persistent racial inequities. Businessman Tom Steyer highlighted this at this week’s debate.

"Every single policy area in the United States has a gigantic subtext of race," he said. "We’re talking about education. We’re talking about criminal justice. We’re talking about housing. We’re talking about loans."

It’s not just policy that wins voters over, though; it’s also old-fashioned retail politicking and showing voters you feel their pain.

That is why lawyer Shireen Carter said she likes Elizabeth Warren. She went to a Warren event just ahead of the Iowa caucuses, clutching a printout of her student loan information.

Carter read the total aloud: "Two-hundred-and-eighty-thousand dollars, seventy-four dollars and fifty-eight cents."

"I printed it out just to show her today," she said. "And I think that it matters to her. I think that she’ll feel that for me — that it’s a burden."

It’s possible that, for some voters, a strong economy provides an opening to tackle large-scale, underlying economic problems that progressives like Warren and Sanders talk about.

"You can kind of see the structure and see the opportunity instead of drowning in your situation," said Jessica Bright, South Carolina state director for Sanders. "So definitely the time is right to change structurally, change the systems that we’re going up against."

For more moderate candidates, talking about big topics like inequality can also open the door to conversations that might appeal more to centrists. At a town hall ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Joe Biden used the Trump tax cuts to talk about fiscal responsibility.

"How many of you really got boosted by that great tax cut? Well, good for you," he said. "But by and large, most people didn’t do all that well by the tax cut. But it did increase this gigantic deficit."

The reality: The economy has been pretty strong

All of this said, it remains true that some Democratic voters simply know that the economy has been running along at a steady clip.

That doesn’t mean they give Trump credit, though. Joyce Delk, who knocked doors for Biden in South Carolina last week, gives him some credit for today’s economy.

"I don’t care what Trump says now that the economy is doing well, but the economy is still rolling off President Obama and Joe Biden — what they did when they were in office," she said.

Given that, some Democrats are hesitant to nominate a self-proclaimed socialist who wants to overhaul entire segments of the economy. And they worry that that kind of a message would, at best, fall flat with general-election voters.

It’s also possible that the U.S. is now in a sort of post-economic election era. That’s what political analyst Charlie Cook said at a Washington economic conference this week.

"Right now, the economy is not driving American politics," he said. "You don’t have unemployment at a 50-year low while at the same time you’ve got a president who has never ever had a 50% job approval rating in any credible national poll."

Whatever is motivating voters, though, the economy for now underpins Trump’s reelection message. If the coronavirus (and fears about it) further rattle the U.S. economy, however, it could mean an entirely new backdrop for November’s election.

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‘I Fell In Love’: Steyer’s Final Pitch To South Carolina

Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer closed out his final day before the South Carolina primary with a high-energy concert inside the gymnasium at Allen University, a historically black college in Columbia.

“I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!” Steyer chanted along with the crowd. “We’re going to win tomorrow. We’re going to win in November.”

Supporters filled up on campaign-catered brisket, fried okra and mashed potatoes while a sizable contingent of rallygoers glided across the dance floor doing the “Cupid Shuffle.” After a delay caused by technical difficulties with the sound system, rapper Juvenile, gospel singer Yolanda Adams and DJ Jazzy Jeff took to a stage lit by strobe lights.

Allen University juniors Christasia Wright and Alisha Brand said they were both drawn to Tom Steyer because he’s talking a lot about investing in historically black colleges and universities like theirs.

Wright said it’s important to correct the funding disparity between HBCUs and predominantly white institutions, and she feels like Steyer will actually follow through on his pledge to make it a priority.

“I’m all-in for Tom,” Brand said. “A lot of candidates haven’t said anything about HBCUs directly.”

Wright was still on the fence before the rally, but as she headed home Friday night, she said she had decided to vote for Steyer.

On the other side of the gymnasium, massage therapist Erica Doyle said she was still trying to decide between Tom Steyer and Joe Biden. She’s torn because of Biden’s loyalty to former President Barack Obama, but as a minority small-business owner, she has liked a lot of what she has heard from Steyer.

“Steyer seems like he’s very sincere,” she said. “You can kind of feel it and see it. That he’s really sincere and not one of those candidates telling you what you want to hear to get in the door.”

Steyer has poured millions into advertising in South Carolina and has held more events in the state than any of the other candidates. Several polls have shown Steyer in third place here. A Fox News poll this week had him in a distant second place behind Biden.

On Thursday, Steyer told reporters he’s planning on a strong finish in South Carolina that will reset the race and carry him on to Super Tuesday. However, further extensive ad spending in those 14 states has not gained Steyer much support in the places where polling has been done.

But either way, Steyer says he’s making a long-term commitment to South Carolina, including leading a massive voter registration effort.

“Win, lose or draw, I fell in love with the people of South Carolina,” he told the crowd on Friday. “I’m never leaving. Honestly, I am never leaving. Because this is a completely righteous fight, and we’re going to win this fight.”

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Sanders’ Way Forward

When South Carolina voters head to the polls this morning, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be several hundred miles up the Eastern Seaboard, in Massachusetts, already looking forward to Super Tuesday.

“This is our last event in South Carolina,” Sanders told a crowd Friday afternoon in Columbia, S.C. “We have been all over this state, in small towns and large cities.”

But of the first four early states, South Carolina was always the one that Sanders’ campaign was most pessimistic about winning. That was because of two factors: the strength of former Vice President Joe Biden in the state, and the fact that Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada all seemed (and indeed, were and almost were) more winnable for Sanders.

After Biden’s distant finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Sanders campaign sensed an opening in South Carolina and added more events there. “We’re running in South Carolina to win,” former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, Sanders’ national campaign co-chair, told NPR immediately after Sanders won the Nevada caucuses in a landslide.

But the haul of delegates awarded on March 3 has always been the Sanders campaign’s main focus, and his schedule over the past week reflected that: more stops in Virginia, North Carolina, and Massachusetts in the final days before voting.

That became especially true after Biden regained some stability for his free-falling campaign in the days after his second-place showing in Nevada. Biden has appeared more comfortable and confident in recent days, and drawn bigger crowds in South Carolina than he did in the first three states.

Massachusetts, where Sanders rallied last night and will hold another event today, could hold special significance on Tuesday. If Sanders can beat Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as a new poll from WBUR suggests is possible, it would put enormous pressure on her to end her campaign, similar to how Florida Sen. Marco Rubio bowed out of the 2016 race after losing Florida to Donald Trump.

As far as Sanders is concerned, the most important outcome of South Carolina isn’t necessarily where he finishes, but rather whether Biden wins, and by how much.

That’s due to the fact that several candidates continue to split the more moderate Democratic vote. If a strong Biden win elevates him back to the stature he held before voting and caucusing began, that’s a much different scenario for Sanders than the ongoing electoral traffic jam that Biden, former South Bend Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar all find themselves in, as they try to establish themselves as the moderate alternative to Sanders and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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Eyes On South Carolina, Where Some Candidates Aren’t

There’s a lot at stake in South Carolina Saturday as the primary begins. Former Vice President Joe Biden needs a big win, and the whole field is looking to pick up any momentum they can before next week’s Super Tuesday.

But several candidates are already skipping ahead to those Super Tuesday states.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is holding events in Virginia and Massachusetts, while former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg heads to Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh, N.C. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren will rally voters in Little Rock, Ark., and Houston.

These candidates are looking beyond South Carolina for two reasons.

First, they’ve been struggling to gain traction in the polls here, failing to get above single digits.

Meanwhile, Biden has been cementing a sizable lead in South Carolina. A recent Monmouth University poll has him at 36% of the vote. Biden is looking to draw support from black voters to recharge his campaign after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer has also staked the future of his candidacy on South Carolina and has been aggressively courting black voters. Steyer has crisscrossed the state for months, poured millions into advertising and has cracked double digits in the polls here.

On top of that reality, there’s the calendar. There are only three days between the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, when 14 states will head to the polls. That means there’s limited time to hit those states, many of which are either more favorable ground for candidates or have significant shares of delegates at stake.

Our political team will be bringing you live updates from the state all day, and results later Saturday night right here.

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Trump Trolls Democratic Candidates

As he has done in other primary states, President Trump held a rally in South Carolina on the eve of the primary. Referring to the Democratic candidates by nicknames he created for them, he polled the large crowd on who would be the “best candidate” for Republicans come November.

“Crazy Bernie” won out over “Sleepy Joe,” Trump said.

Trump also accused Democrats of politicizing coronavirus after they have criticized his administration over its response. That criticism, he said, is Democrats’ “new hoax.”

“You shouldn’t waste your vote on them tomorrow,” he said. “I have to be honest.”

— Amita Kelly
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Steyer Dominates in South Carolina Ad Spending

Billionaire businessman Tom Steyer continues to outspend the rest of the candidate field on advertising, dropping nearly $24 million in South Carolina, according to Feb. 25 data provided by Advertising Analytics.

Steyer hasn’t secured any delegates in the first three presidential contests but hopes to come out of South Carolina with a stronger showing. The RealClearPolitics polling average from Feb. 28 shows Steyer ranking third at 14% behind former Vice President Joe Biden (34%) and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (22%.)

That said, despite Biden’s front-runner status and vow to win in South Carolina, the former vice president ranks next to the bottom for ad spending in the state, having spent just over $1 million as of Feb. 25.

And no candidate has more to lose in South Carolina than Biden.

After coming in second in the Nevada caucuses and underperforming in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Biden must do well in the Palmetto State if he wants to stay in the running for the nomination.

Biden’s campaign has noticeably cut back on spending, only shelling out around $626,000 for all of Super Tuesday ads so far, when there are 14 states up for grabs, according to data from Advertising Analytics through Feb. 27.

The only candidate spending less than Biden on ads in South Carolina is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has spent under $1 million. Although, unlike Biden, Sanders is investing significant funding elsewhere — spending almost $7 million on ads in California and $4 million in Texas alone. They are both Super Tuesday states.

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How A President Buttigieg Would Fight Coronavirus

Pete Buttigieg has been crisscrossing South Carolina in the past two days hoping to win over Democrats and independents who can vote in the primary. He drew an enthusiastic crowd during an appearance at the Citadel in Charleston, the famous military college.

Buttigieg spoke of his Navy service and also mentioned the other big news, the coronavirus.

Taking a jab at President Trump, Buttigieg said the virus “does not care what country it is in. It’s not going to be stopped by a big wall.”

Buttigieg said that if elected, he would not hesitate to bring expert advisers to guide him on such issues, saying that he would never want to be “the smartest person in the room” in those situations and that “you’ve got to have truth-tellers around you.”

The Trump administration has been criticized for its response to the virus, including a lack of leadership. But Trump has put multiple layers of oversight on the effort, including Vice President Pence and global HIV expert Debbie Birx, in addition to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. The administration has tried to calm fears as the virus spreads around the world, and it insists it is prepared in case of an outbreak.

Buttigieg has been trailing in the polls in South Carolina, in part because of his lack of success in appealing to African Americans, who make up nearly two-thirds of the Democratic electorate there.

Summoning memories of former President Barack Obama, Buttigieg called running for office “an act of hope” and asked South Carolina Democrats to help him spread that hope around.

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What It Would Mean For Biden To Lose South Carolina

Asked during this week’s debate in Charleston, S.C., whether he would drop out if he doesn’t win the primary there, former Vice President Joe Biden was blunt.

"I will win South Carolina," Biden said.

No one has more riding on South Carolina than Biden does. Biden led for nearly a year in national polls for the Democratic presidential nomination and by big margins in South Carolina.

After disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, Biden collapsed nationally and margins tightened in South Carolina.

Read more on why Biden’s campaign is on the line in Saturday’s primary.

— NPR Staff
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Bernie’s Big TV Operation

The Sanders campaign has made its video livestreaming a central part of its overall messaging, fundraising and organizing strategy. Here’s a look behind the scenes.

— NPR Staff
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In One Suburban Living Room, Buttigieg Sweeps Mock Primary

In a living room in suburban Fort Mill, about a dozen Democratic voters cast some of the first ballots of the South Carolina primary.

Well, kind of. This was a mock election, hosted by Catherine O’Grady and Kurt Merkle. After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, the couple organized a handful of their friends and neighbors to channel their disappointment in a positive direction.

Over the past few years, they have met in one another’s homes to talk politics, organize around local issues and help one friend run as a Democrat for the State House in this Republican-leaning suburb outside Charlotte.

With the South Carolina primary approaching, the group got together again on Thursday night for a mock election. Over coffee, tea and a variety of store-bought cookies, attendees filled out paper slips with their choice for the Democratic nomination.

The slips went in two boxes, both wrapped in maps of South Carolina:

  • Box No. 1: Who Will Win South Carolina?
  • Box No. 2: Who Is Your Favorite?

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg took the top spot in the “favorite” bucket, with Sen. Bernie Sanders in second. Former Vice President Joe Biden won the “Who Will Win South Carolina” vote in a landslide.

“We had onlookers checking for miscounted votes,” Merkle says. “It was a very aboveboard democratic event.”

After the vote, the group talked about the issue they felt would be most important during this election. Pretty much everyone landed on health care. There was some consensus about moving toward a single-payer system, but how to get there and how fast sparked debate.

O’Grady, a 49-year-old social worker who supports Sen. Elizabeth Warren, says the event wasn’t merely lighthearted. She says that she’s uneasy about where the race stands right now and that everyone is wrestling with the question of which candidate can beat President Trump.

“There’s a tension for sure,” she says. “Are we going to have a candidate that beats Trump? People aren’t totally relaxed, to be honest.”

Merkle, a 56-year-old software engineer, is feeling more optimistic, though he has talked about wishing he could roll the strengths of all the candidates into one. He’s planning to vote for Buttigieg.

O’Grady and Merkle’s 18-year-old son, Steffen, a first-time voter, was also on hand. He said he will cast his first vote for Sanders.

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Tom Steyer Is Betting It All On South Carolina

Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund investor and climate activist, is making a big play for black voters here in South Carolina. While other candidates sprinted across Iowa and New Hampshire, Steyer was here, blanketing the state with ads and forging relationships with black voters in a state where they make up two-thirds of the Democratic primary electorate.

We spent time on the road with Steyer across the state this week. His ads and mailers are ubiquitous, as we reported here.

President Trump has taken notice of Steyer’s aggressive campaign, weighing in on Twitter to dissuade South Carolina’s voters from supporting Steyer. Trump is slated to attend a fundraiser in North Charleston Friday and will rally his own supporters on Friday night.

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South Carolina Primary Features Brand-New Voting Equipment

When primary voters go to the polls in South Carolina on Saturday, they’ll be the first in the nation to use all-new voting equipment. The state is about one of about a dozen replacing all or most of their voting machines this year, in part because of security concerns after Russian interference in the 2016 election.

South Carolina officials are eager to emphasize the reliability of their state’s equipment following the Iowa caucus debacle, where a flawed app delayed the reporting of accurate results for weeks.

The state’s old voting machines relied on touch-screen technology that didn’t leave a paper trail that could be audited after the election. The new machines will mark a paper ballot with a bar code and the selected candidate’s names. The ballots then get inserted into a scanner for counting.

Chris Whitmire of the state’s election commission showed voters earlier this week how to use the new equipment, part of an effort to educate them about changes to the voting process ahead of the primary.

"When we say we have a paper record of the voters’ voted ballot at the end of the day, they like that and that makes them feel more confident in the integrity of the election and about the security of the election and it does us, too," Whitmire said.

At an early voting site in Columbia this week, voter Dwayne Sims agreed.

"I do like the fact that there’s a paper ballot. I did double-check and make sure that the person I selected was the name that was on the ballot."

But Sims worries the extra steps needed to vote under the new system could cause long lines at some polling sites.

Another voter at the site was Duncan Buell, a computer scientist at the University of South Carolina, who is concerned about aspects of the technology. "I’m not a fan of the ballot-marking devices because the votes are actually counted not from the text that I can read, but from bar codes."

He says he would be more confident if the state more thoroughly audited the ballots afterwards. It’s a concern computer scientists have expressed elsewhere, including in neighboring Georgia, which is also using new machines this year.

Buell thinks one advantage South Carolina has is that it was able to use the equipment for several low-turnout elections and will have time to work out any kinks before the November general election.

Some voters also have concerns about the technology.

"I personally cannot read the bar code, so I’m having to trust the system," said Melissa Rose.

It was a concern shared by the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, but co-President Christe McCoy Lawrence says the group is putting it aside to focus on voter turnout.

"We feel now that one of the greatest dangers comes from people losing faith in the voting process," she said. "So we did not agree with this decision, but it’s made, so we are now completely engaged in conveying confidence in the system."

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‘Operation Chaos 2020’: Why Some South Carolina Republicans Will Vote For A Democrat

South Carolina’s Republican Party may have canceled its presidential primary this year, but that won’t entirely keep GOP voters on the sidelines on Saturday. Some will vote anyway — for a Democratic candidate who they hope never becomes president.

South Carolina is one of 15 states that use an “open primary” system, which allows Republicans to vote in a Democratic primary, and vice versa.

Supporters say open primaries encourage participation by providing voters more flexibility to vote their conscience. But critics say such primaries dilute the votes of actual party members, encouraging what some call mischief and what others call election tampering.

For critics on the left, the most jarring example of this came in 2008 with a campaign spearheaded by Rush Limbaugh, dubbed “Operation Chaos.” The goal was to rally conservatives to vote in the primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the thinking that the longer the contest dragged on, the weaker the eventual Democratic nominee would be.

Republicans say Democrats are hardly blameless themselves. In 2000, for example, they cried foul when Democrats in South Carolina signaled they would be voting for John McCain. A spokesman for the rival George W. Bush campaign accused “limousine-liberal Democrats” of “distorting the intent of real Republican voters.”

This year, at least two efforts are underway in South Carolina to get Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary. (Neither has been sanctioned by the state GOP.)

One, called Operation Chaos 2020, is the brainchild of the Conservative Defense Fund, a South Carolina advocacy group. Organizers have yet to announce which Democrat they’ll be backing, but say the campaign “will help [President] Trump by electing the craziest Democrat who will be easy for Trump to beat.”

A separate effort by the group Trump 2-29 is encouraging Republicans to vote for Bernie Sanders.

“If South Carolina had closed primaries, we would not be doing this,” Karen Martin, a Tea Party activist and one of the group’s founders, told NPR.

“It’s important to me as an individual voter because any time that someone who supports a Democrat platform is able to cross over and vote in a Republican primary, that dilutes my vote,” Martin said. “So, for example, if I was in a Baptist church, and we were going to hire a new pastor, we wouldn’t ask the Lutherans or the Methodists to be able to vote for our new pastor. And so that’s the way I feel about the closed primary system.”

There’s little evidence to suggest that these types of efforts have a meaningful impact. Still, a resolution introduced by state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who is supporting Joe Biden, seeks to squash crossover voting by keeping any Republicans who vote in tomorrow’s Democratic contest from participating in what will be a competitive GOP primary in 2024. Instead, they would have to vote again in that year’s Democratic primary.

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Next Up: South Carolina

Welcome to our coverage of the South Carolina Democratic primary, the party’s fourth presidential nominating contest and its first in the South.

Joe Biden is the candidate in the spotlight this weekend. After disappointing finishes in the first two states and a distant second in Nevada on Saturday, the former vice president is banking on a win in South Carolina to boost his chances against front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders and perhaps begin to edge out other moderate candidates.

Biden himself is expressing confidence, declaring in Tuesday night’s debate: “I will win South Carolina.” Polling suggests he’s right.

Key to the former vice president’s standing is his support among African American supporters. In surveys, Biden has long led his fellow Democrats with this voting bloc, and black voters make up more than half of South Carolina’s electorate.

But Sanders was fairly close behind Biden among African American caucusgoers in Nevada, and the Vermont senator will look for an upset to extend his delegate lead.

Tom Steyer is seeking his first strong result. The billionaire has spent more than $23 million on ads in South Carolina, dwarfing what his rivals have spent, and has been making explicit appeals to black voters in the state.

Also competing in South Carolina are Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. (Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is first on the Democratic ballot a few days later, on Super Tuesday.)

And yet again, the president makes an appearance in an early voting state. Though South Carolina Republicans canceled their GOP primary, President Trump holds a campaign rally in the state Friday night.

Polls close at 7 p.m. ET Saturday. Until then, this page will have updates from the campaign trail. When polls do close, this page will also have live results. Thanks for joining us!

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