by Susan Ferrechio · February 13, 2020
The survival of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign hinges on the next three weeks and whether he can dominate two key contests in South Carolina and Nevada.
Biden, who placed fifth in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, has picked up only six delegates after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses last week. Front-runners Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have blown past Biden with 22 and 21 delegates, respectively.
“Biden,” one unaligned Democratic strategist told the Washington Examiner, “is in a world of hurt.”
But there is an opportunity for him to resuscitate his campaign this month, both in Nevada and South Carolina. Wins in both states would bolster Biden’s momentum heading into the critical Super Tuesday contest on March 3.
“A win in both states puts Biden back into the race,” Ron Faucheux, a nonpartisan political analyst and the publisher of the Lunchtime Politics newsletter, told the Washington Examiner. “A win in South Carolina and a strong showing in Nevada buys him time.”
Biden is leading in both states, recent polls show, though only very narrowly in Nevada.
Polling has been scarce in the Silver State, but, the most recent voter survey, conducted more than a month ago by USA Today and Suffolk University, found Biden leading Sanders by just 1 point, with 19% of support versus 18% for Sanders.
Biden enjoys a larger lead in South Carolina, but recent polling is lacking.
An East Carolina University poll released on Feb. 3 gave Biden an 18-point lead over Tom Steyer, who has saturated the state with campaign advertising.
A second poll, conducted by the Post and Courier, showed a much closer race, with Biden leading Sanders by 5 points and Steyer by 7 points.
Biden’s campaign has referred to South Carolina as a firewall, and strategists in the state agree it remains a stronghold for the struggling campaign.
“I still think he is very much viable in South Carolina,” Phil Bailey, a longtime Democratic strategist based in Columbia, told the Washington Examiner. “I think he will come in first place. The question is, is it a double-digit win or a single-digit win at this point?”
Biden enjoys support from the state’s large African American voter base and had a close relationship with longtime Sens. Fritz Hollings and Strom Thurmond, a Democrat and a Republican who were in the Senate for 39 years and 48 years, respectively.
“He’s got a connection to this state and deep ties,” Bailey told the Washington Examiner. “That’s a big factor here.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Biden backer and a Missouri Democrat, campaigned for the former vice president last weekend in South Carolina and reported his support remains strong among black voters.
“I was on the ground, and I went to six different cities,” Cleaver told the Washington Examiner. “People were coming up to me, in church, after church, telling me, ‘Don’t worry. We are with you.’”
But strategists point out the South Carolina primary is more than two weeks away, and Biden’s momentum could continue to fizzle in the meantime.
The political landscape is hardly stable in South Carolina. Steyer, a billionaire climate change activist, has been flooding South Carolina with campaign ads, helping to lift his poll numbers from near zero to 19% in just a few months.
Biden might lose Nevada to Sanders, which would cement Sanders as the Democratic front-runner and further weaken Biden ahead of the South Carolina primary.
The Nevada caucuses take place on Feb. 22, and Sanders has a formidable ground operation in the state.
Jim Manley, a former top aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said it was notable that Biden left New Hampshire the night of the primary and went to South Carolina, skipping a stop in Nevada.
“He decided to get out of New Hampshire quickly and go to South Carolina instead of going to Nevada, which is up next,” Manley told the Washington Examiner. “That’s an acknowledgment that he may be facing some trouble in Nevada, and he’s putting all his chips in South Carolina.”
While Sanders has been closing in on Biden in Nevada, his campaign was handed a potential setback on Wednesday when the Culinary Union, which represents 60,000 hotel and casino workers, warned in a flyer to its members that both Sanders and Warren would eliminate popular healthcare plans with their Medicare for All agendas. The flyer was first reported by the Nevada Independent.
Union support for Biden would help secure a victory in Nevada, but Biden must still find a way to strengthen weak fundraising numbers.
Biden, more than his competitors, is dependent on big donors, and some are becoming skittish about his viability after he bombed in the first two contests.
“I think he’s reeling right now,” Manley told the Washington Examiner. “And I think his money problems are only going to get worse from here on out.”
Washington Examiner · by Susan Ferrechio · February 13, 2020