Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, accompanied by his daughter Ashley Biden, left, and wife Jill Biden delivers remarks at his primary night election event in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 29, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, accompanied by his daughter Ashley Biden, left, and wife Jill Biden delivers remarks at his primary night election event in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 29, 2020.
Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C.—Saturday in South Carolina went as expected. Joe Biden won the state in a landslide and black folk across all age brackets favored the former vice president over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic primary pack.

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Black voters made one thing very clear to The Root as I traveled the state this past week: Joe Biden is the closest thing to Obama and we aren’t passing up on him for anyone. Exit polling backs up their words.

Three out of five black voters backed Biden compared to just 1 out of 5 black voters for Bernie, according to CNN’s exit polling. More than two-thirds of black people over 60 supported Biden, but Sanders edged him with voters under 30. Sanders got 38 percent of them, while Biden captured around 36 percent of those younger voters.

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NBC News reports that more than 56 percent of primary goers in South Carolina were African-American. What is especially telling from the NBC News polling was how much former President Barack Obama resonated in black voters’ minds compared to white ones.

“Two out of three black voters said they want a return to Obama’s policies, while a plurality of white Democrats, 41 percent, said they are looking for a president who will pursue more liberal policies,” NBC News found.

One thing we have to be careful about is that while black voters will certainly determine if Biden wins the nomination, his win in South Carolina in no way seals the deal for him. Black voters in South Carolina don’t have the same priorities as those in Michigan or New York City, for example. In 2016, for example, Sanders fared better in some Midwest states than Hillary Clinton. That could prove true in 2020. Also keep in mind that Sanders is doing well with Latinx voters, as Nevada showed us in its caucuses. Super Tuesday will feature states like California and Texas with large Latinx voting populations that could help Sanders offset his disadvantage with black voters, if his trends from Nevada continue.

And Bernie could do well in some states with younger black voters if they come out in large numbers to support him. That is his main problem. Black millennials like Bernie and even vote for him, but not enough come out in large enough numbers to compete with their parents and older family members who back Biden.

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To be clear, black people like Bernie just fine. It’s just that they tend to actually vote for other candidates they prefer over him. His campaign from 2016 and the current 2020 one push his favorability with black voters, which is actually true. The issue is that there is a difference between favorability and votes at the ballot box and if the trend in South Carolina continues into Super Tuesday, it could undermine his efforts to clinch the nomination, which he’s more competitive for now than he was nearly four years ago.

For now, the appears to be a two-person race.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is struggling to gain traction for a wide range of reasons, as The Root previously reported; but she is polling very well in California and that primary could give her a much-needed lift if she at least places second. Pete Buttigieg only got two percent of the black vote in South Carolina. Sen. Amy Klobuchar did worse with one percent of the black voters, according to exit polling.

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Their campaigns will die soon if they don’t do any better—and there is no indication that either will.

And The Root was at Tom Steyer’s watch party in Columbia when word broke over the big screens that the businessman was dropping out of the campaign. Steyer didn’t back that ass up (Thank God!), but the DJ was dope, though. The food was nice and there was free liquor, so there’s that.

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What we did learn is that Joe Biden is in the hunt and he was never as far behind as everyone said he was. He is not a clinch for the nomination, but he is very much primed to compete with Bernie for the front-runner spot entering Super Tuesday.

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He has black voters in South Carolina to thank for that.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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