Staff from CBS News make final preparations on the Democratic National Committee Debate stage in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 2020.
Staff from CBS News make final preparations on the Democratic National Committee Debate stage in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 25, 2020.
Photo: Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP) (Photo by LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images

CHARLESTON, S.C.—Greetings from South Carolina, where seven candidates for the Democratic nomination for president will try and convince voters in the state why they should back their candidacies at 8 p.m. ET.

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This primary could potentially make or break the viability of several campaigns, or, in the case of former Vice President Joe Biden, further slow their momentum. Dubbed as the frontrunner when he threw his hat into the race, Biden coasted through much of the campaign season with most black voters supporting his run. But over the past several months, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has emerged as the new frontrunner and is now competing for a lot of those votes. Businessman Tom Steyer has been making inroads with black residents here as well.

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While many expect Biden to win South Carolina, it may not be a home run if he doesn’t blow the rest of the competition out of the water.

Sanders, who has enjoyed for support from young people of color—particularly Latinx voters—will have to prove that he can win over older black people, especially those 40 and over. So far, polling in California, for example, is showing that he has work to do in that regard. Nonetheless, he is in strong standing to take second place here.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren needs to at least break even to prove she is viable. A third-place finish is essential. If not, perhaps black voters elsewhere may not see her as electable. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has enjoyed little black support, needs to show she can resonate with black people with a decent showing here. There is no track record of her doing so at this point. If anyone is to drop out after a poor showing in South Carolina, she may be the first to do so.

A lot of black voters here have told me that they are supporting Steyer and we understand why. This man’s television ads are everywhere and his surrogates have all praised the campaign for employing black businesses and local black people, as The Root previously reported. Steyer may surprise some folks with a decent showing.

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Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg will have to show that he can win over black voters. If he can’t do that, he has zero chance of winning the nomination. You can’t be the Democratic nominee with little to no black support. It is pretty much impossible—especially in a field this big with names who have decades of inroads with black communities and campaign experience trying to win them over.

As for Mike Bloomberg? Well, I was at a presser this afternoon with five former and current black mayors supporting his candidacy who all said that Bernie Sanders has to be held accountable for his signing of the 1994 crime bill and what they argued was his poor record on fighting the NRA and combating gun violence.

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When I asked the mayors to explain how they could attack Sanders for the crime bill yet forgive Bloomberg’s stop and frisk policy, they pivoted to his national efforts to fight gun violence and programs that help young men with employment and wealth building.

“None of the candidates are perfect,” they all argued.

That’s true.

I’ll be writing about this tomorrow, but Bloomberg’s plan appears to be attacking Bernie for supporting the crime bill and Biden for writing it. I have a hunch it won’t work out for him.

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Something to do with the pot calling the kettle black.

Check in at 7:30 p.m. ET to get live updates of the debate from Scott’s Grand event center with the civil rights group Black Voters Matter.

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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