The Memo: Biden needs blowout SC win to reshape race

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former Vice President Joe Biden isn’t just looking for a win in South Carolina — he’s looking for a blowout.

There is tangible confidence in the Biden camp that he will win the Palmetto State primary on Saturday, but the question is, by how much?

His supporters know the stakes.

“I think it has got to be at least 5 points. Ten points is optimum, and anything beyond 10 points would be extra,” said Dick Harpootlian, a storied figure in South Carolina politics who is currently a state senator and sits on the finance committee of Biden’s campaign.

“Five to 10 points is enough of a win to show to the rest of the country,” Harpootlian added.

Meanwhile, Amanda Loveday, a South Carolinian and senior adviser to a super PAC supporting Biden, insisted that “a win is a win.” 

But she clearly held out hope for a more emphatic result, telling The Hill, “You’re on the ground here. You can tell that the wind is at his back.”

The margin of a Biden victory in South Carolina is far from an academic question. He needs a win that packs enough punch to reshape the national race.

A narrow victory for Biden in a state that has long been regarded as a stronghold would not be enough to throw national front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) off his current trajectory.

If, on the other hand, Biden were to win with a thumping majority, that would be a different story — one that would potentially revitalize his campaign and reestablish his primacy among several centrist candidates.

But Sanders has not given up hope of pulling a surprise. 

At a rally here on Friday afternoon, where actor Danny Glover and rapper Killer Mike also spoke on his behalf, Sanders promised to win the primary in the state. 

“I’m asking you to bring out your friends and co-workers and neighbors,” Sanders told the young, racially diverse crowd.

The opinion polls and even the candidates’ schedules tell their own stories, however.

Biden is leading by an average of more than 12 percentage points in the current RealClearPolitics polling average in the state. 

He will stay here on Saturday evening for what he expects to be a victory rally. Sanders by that time will be in Virginia, one of 14 states that vote on Super Tuesday.

If Sanders did spring an upset win, it likely would end Biden’s White House hopes. The intensity of the Vermonter’s supporters is evident, and many of the people who attended his Friday rally had already been won over by his calls for sweeping reform of American society.

Mark Bischoff, a 33-year-old hospital worker who lives in West Columbia, said he was backing the Vermont senator because of concerns about health care costs — concerns that were personal in nature. 

Bischoff and his wife want to start a family and “don’t want to go bankrupt” because of health care costs associated with pregnancy, he told The Hill.

Michael Gee, a 61-year-old who attended the rally with his wife and son, said, “We need to reestablish a humanity into our politics. … Bernie speaks to that more than any other candidate.” 

Gee, who is African American, added, “Where I’m from, the people I’m around, it resonates with them.”

But for all that, Biden is perceived to have retained enough of his strength with older voters — black and white – to get a significant victory on Saturday.

Bakari Sellers, a former state representative who had initially backed Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) for the presidency, said he believed Biden could even outperform the already strong opinion polls.

Sellers, who is not supporting any current candidate, suggested that a victory “closer to 18 or 20 points” might be possible for Biden. 

He added that the former vice president was buttressed by being a familiar figure to so many South Carolinians. 

He also said Biden could benefit if there was a late decline in the comparatively strong polling numbers being posted by businessman Tom Steyer.

“People understand that you’re throwing your vote away by voting for Tom Steyer,” Sellers predicted, a sentiment that President Trump shared during his own rally in South Carolina on Friday night.

An outcome where Biden runs away with the primary by anywhere close to 20 points would shake up the race in a major way. 

But there is a further complicating factor: the window of time between South Carolina and Super Tuesday could be too short to give the former vice president the maximum shot of momentum.

Right now, Sanders has a strong polling lead in California, which could net him a large haul of delegates. He is also leading polls, albeit by a more modest margin, in the second-largest Super Tuesday state, Texas.

South Carolina state Representative Mandy Powers Norrell, who was also the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, said she herself has been “trying to assess how much of a boost [Biden] is going to get from South Carolina.”

Norrell added, “I think he will win here by a decisive margin, and that will be in the news for Sunday and Monday. But then that news starts to be eclipsed by [the run-up to] Super Tuesday.”

Yes, a win is a win. But for Biden, a simple victory may not be enough.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency. 

Tags 2020 election Bernie Sanders Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign South Carolina primary Tom Steyer

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