Biden seeks momentum boost in South Carolina

President Biden is once again betting big on South Carolina.

Biden is looking to the Palmetto State — which catapulted him into the driver’s seat for the Democratic nomination in 2020 — to get a jolt of momentum and motivate Democrats, while he turns to a likely general election rematch against former President Trump.

He will visit South Carolina on Saturday and is spending significant time there in the lead up to the Feb. 3 primary to bolster his support with Black voters and others whose support he’ll need come November.

While South Carolina is not expected to be a competitive state in the general election, it could give him the boost his campaign has been lacking. And, it carries symbolic significance for him after an endorsement from Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) in 2020 turned around his primary run and led him to win the White House.

Clyburn, in an interview with The Hill, said he thinks Biden doing well in the South Carolina primary next month would increase enthusiasm for Democrats.

“I really believe that people are beginning to focus on things now and by time we get to the primary election on the 3rd, I think that there’ll be a good turnout of voters and I think that Joe Biden would beat his number from New Hampshire,” the South Carolina lawmaker said.

Biden spearheaded the move to make South Carolina the first voting state in an effort to promote diverse voices in early Democratic primaries, a controversial move that led to pushback at the time from Democrats in New Hampshire.

“We pick presidents and I think what South Carolina voters appreciate about Joe Biden is his loyalty to the state,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist and close Clyburn ally.

South Carolina has a high percentage of Black voters in the U.S., and rallying those voters is essential to exciting Democrats ahead of November. But, Biden has experienced a dip in support from Black voters.

A New York Times and Siena College poll from November found that 22 percent of Black voters in six battleground states said they would support Trump, which is the highest percentage a Republican presidential candidate has seen in a half-century.

Jim Kessler, a co-founder of center-left think tank Third Way, said Biden’s first order of business in his reelection bid should be solidifying support from the voters who helped put him in the White House in the first place. That includes Black voters, women voters and younger voters.

The Biden campaign this week signaled it was turning its attention fully to an anticipated general election contest with Trump, who won the New Hampshire primary by 11 percentage points, according to election results form Decision Desk HQ.

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The campaign has been intentional in its outreach to minority communities in swing states, and in places like South Carolina.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced Friday a six-figure ad campaign targeting minority voters in Nevada and South Carolina that highlights voting rights and student loan forgiveness.

“You got people out there, knocking on doors. Asking people to vote for your candidate, that’s got to be people who understand the culture,” Clyburn said. “You got to have people from these communities.”

The president and other top officials have made recurring trips to South Carolina.

Biden also recently went to South Carolina for a speech at Mother Emmanuel Church, where he emphasized the threats Trump poses to personal freedoms and equated the former president’s election denialism with the refusal of some in the South to accept defeat in the Civil War.

The president in the same visit also sought to highlight how his administration has specifically helped Black Americans, pointing to legislation to lower prescription drug costs and historic investments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

“His first visit to South Carolina in this election season with a very consequential visit to the Mother Emmanuel. I think this visit is a very critical visit,” Seawright said. “I think the race on the other side is shaping up to be what it’s gonna be, regardless of who prevails in the end, Trumpism is going to be on the ballot.”

“And the key ingredients to that is racism, bigotry, white supremacist and white nationalism, and Christian white nationalism,” he added.

First lady Jill Biden traveled to South Carolina on Friday for her first campaign visit to the state in 2024. She headlined a special South Carolina Educators for Biden-Harris event in Columbia.

Vice President Kamala Harris went to South Carolina in November to put Biden’s name on the primary ballot and returned to the state this month for Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), a top Biden surrogate, made a rare trip of his own to South Carolina this week, further underscoring the Democratic focus on the state ahead of the Feb. 3 primary.

Biden is expected to easily win the primary over challenger Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), but the emphasis on South Carolina comes as concerns are still lingering for the president’s reelection campaign heading into the general election.

And, Republicans are focused on the Palmetto State too. South Carolina’s former governor, Nikki Haley, is still in the GOP primary race and not showing signs of dropping out before the contest. Trump appears to be considering South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott (R) to be his running mate after Scott endorsed him.

Clyburn said he’s not concerned that Scott as Trump’s running mate would take Black voters away from Biden, though.

“I think that African Americans in this country are beginning to take a hard look at people and we are getting beyond skin color,” he said. “Both Tim Scott and Donald Trump are against the Affordable Care Act. They both are against the John Lewis Voting Rights act. They both are against what I call fixing Social Security. They both are against Medicare and Medicaid.”

“I’m not worried about skin color of the person who’s on the ticket, I want to hear what the vision is for the future of this country,” the lawmaker added.

And, he expressed optimism that voters, especially Black voters and those in South Carolina, will turn out for Biden again.

“[Biden] has kept his commitment to the American people,” Clyburn said. “He’s kept his commitments to South Carolina, the African American community.”

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