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Winners and losers from the South Carolina primary

The Hill logo The Hill 3/1/2020 Niall Stanage
Joe Biden et al. standing in front of a crowd: Winners and losers from the South Carolina primary © Greg Nash Winners and losers from the South Carolina primary

COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina on Saturday became the fourth state to make its voice heard in the Democratic presidential race.

Who were the big winners and losers?

WINNERS

Former Vice President Joe Biden

It was a huge night for Biden.

He needed a blowout win and got one - with an even bigger margin of victory than almost anyone had predicted.

Late Saturday night, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Biden had more than 48 percent of the votes cast, crushing second-placed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) by a margin greater than 2-to-1.

It was a show of remarkable political resilience from Biden, who performed dismally in the first two contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, and indifferently in the third, in Nevada.

Biden cast his victory as a comeback on behalf of "all those of you who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind."

The former vice president had long argued that his strength would become more apparent as the primary left behind lily-white states like Iowa and New Hampshire. According to exit polls here, he got the support of 61 percent of black voters, with Sanders way behind with just 17 percent.

The key question - to which no one honestly knows the answer - is how much this result changes the race overall, especially with Super Tuesday's results only about 72 hours away.

Biden's stirring performance here could nudge other moderates, such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg toward the exits.

But Sanders remains strong overall and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's name is about to appear on ballots for the first time, complicating life for Biden.

Still, Biden was hoping for a good night, and got an outstanding one.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.)

Clyburn endorsed Biden in the closing stretch of the race. The result was testament to the House Majority Whip's political capital in his home state.

In conversations with voters, especially African Americans, the Clyburn endorsement came up again and again. Even those who had already been leaning toward Biden seemed to view Clyburn's endorsement of him as validation that they were on the right track.

In making his endorsement, Clyburn also crystallized the case for Biden in the Palmetto State: "I know Joe. We know Joe. But more importantly, Joe knows us," he said.

Clyburn spoke at Biden's victory rally here on Saturday night and stood by the candidate's side as he delivered his speech.

Clyburn "lifted me in this campaign on his shoulders," Biden said.

South Carolina

The primary proceeded smoothly both in terms of the voting process and the announcement of results - something that stood in sharp contrast to the fiasco that enveloped the Iowa caucuses.

Slideshow by photo services

Just as importantly, the Palmetto State - by delivering a result so different from those that have gone before - put a spotlight on its own distinctiveness.

There isn't any question that South Carolina's Democratic electorate is more representative of the party as a whole than the voters in Iowa or New Hampshire.

It's increasingly difficult to argue that the other, whiter states should retain their prized spot on the calendar simply because of tradition.

LOSERS

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Sanders was still publicly talking up the chances of a win in the Palmetto State during his last rally in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday afternoon.

Even if that was always a bit optimistic, the sheer scale of the Sanders defeat will come as a very unpleasant surprise.

The Vermont senator, coming off a huge win in Nevada, appears to have lost to Biden by almost 30 points.

The dangers of the South Carolina defeat shouldn't be exaggerated.

Sanders is in extremely good shape in the largest state to vote on Super Tuesday, California. And he leads in polls in the second biggest state, Texas. He expects to harvest a lot of delegates from Super Tuesday overall.

But the scale of his defeat and his failure to make serious inroads with black voters will renew doubts about Sanders's candidacy.

And it will up the pressure for him to perform strongly in the southern states that vote on Super Tuesday, including Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg

Bloomberg wasn't on the ballot, but he would have preferred a different result.

The best case for Bloomberg has always been a scenario in which Sanders is the undisputed front-runner and the centrist vote is hopelessly splintered among several candidates.

Things were looking good for him in that regard right up until Saturday night.

Now, Biden is revitalized and other moderates are fading.

It could end up being the former vice president rather than the billionaire who becomes the main standard-bearer for voters who think Sanders is too far to the left.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Things just can't continue like this for Warren.

The Massachusetts senator soared in the polls in the fall, and at one point looked an extremely plausible contender to win the nomination.

Her results haven't come close to measuring up to those expectations. In the four contests so far she has come third, fourth, fourth again and, on Saturday, fifth.

Her failure to perform better is perplexing to many independent observers as well as to her supporters. But, whatever the reason, her candidacy is in dire shape.

Super Tuesday could be the end of the road.

The non-Biden moderates

Saturday was a very poor day for Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

With almost all precincts reporting, they appear to have come fourth and sixth respectively. Buttigieg has about 8 percent of the vote, Klobuchar a mere 3 percent.

It looks increasingly like both of them have already had their moment - Buttigieg with his victory in Iowa, Klobuchar with her surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire.

The path is vanishingly narrow for either candidate to get past both Biden and Bloomberg to establish themselves as the main alternative to Sanders.

Meanwhile, businessman Tom Steyer's race is done.

He spent lavishly in South Carolina but it was only good enough for a third-place finish. He dropped out as the results were still coming in.

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