CHARLESTON, S.C. ― President Joe Biden easily won the South Carolina Democratic primary Saturday, notching his first victory in his largely unobstructed path to become the Democratic nominee in a possible rematch against Donald Trump in the fall.
Biden’s decisive win, which was called almost immediately after polls closed, was not a surprise given his lack of a formidable challenger. But it was an important milestone nonetheless, setting Biden on course to win the nomination as he looks unite the entire party around his candidacy.
Biden appeared to win at least 96% of the vote, with Rep. Dean Phillips, D.-Minn., and author Marianne Williamson finishing in the low single digits.
Here are 3 key takeaways from the night.
Despite Democratic angst, Biden is headed for the nomination
Biden quashed any doubts whether he will be the Democratic nominee with his dominant win in South Carolina − despite facing repeated questions about his ability to rally the base.
For the past year, polls have shown that most Democratic voters would prefer someone other than Biden as their party’s standard-bearer in 2024.
But Biden’s overwhelming victory in South Carolina − the first state to vote in the new Democratic primary calendar − proved that the longshot candidacies of Phillips and Williamson are not serious threats.
Biden, 81, still faces concerns within his party about his age and ability to fire up the Democratic base, particularly young voters and progressives. Yet despite his flaws as a candidate, a viable Democratic challenger never mounted last year, and Biden is cruising toward the nomination.
Pam Joy, a Black 62-year-old waitress from Charleston, sat out of the Saturday’s primary but said she plans to vote for Biden in November despite her concerns about his age because she usually votes for Democrats.
With the outcome in South Carolina never in doubt, Biden spent Saturday traveling to Los Angeles to attend fundraiser. He called into a South Carolina Democratic watch party to address supporters via speakerphone.
“The stakes in this election could not be higher,” Biden said in a statement after his win, warning of “extreme and dangerous voices at work in the country − led by Donald Trump.”
The Biden campaign had already pivoted to a likely rematch against Trump after the former president’s victory in the New Hampshire Republican Primary. Next up in the Democratic primary is Nevada, which votes Tuesday.
While South Carolina gave Biden an opportunity to test his message with Black voters, who dominate the Democratic electorate in the state, Nevada offers a similar opportunity with Latino voters. Nevada, unlike heavily Republican South Carolina, is also a critical battleground state in the general election.
A big night for Black voters
Saturday’s primary marked South Carolina Democrats’ first since the Democratic National Committee upended its primary calendar to scrap Iowa and New Hampshire as the first and second states to vote to begin with the Palmetto State
The party’s rationale: Even though South Carolina isn’t in play in the general election, its large Black population showcases Democrats’ most reliable and important base of voters, letting them set the course for the nomination process.
Voter turnout Saturday, not surprisingly, appeared to be down compared to the highly competitive Democratic primary of 2020, which Biden also won.
South Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Parmley, however, told reporters that Black turnout in early voting increased by 13% over 2020. A full breakdown of the overall vote won’t be available until after all results are tallied.
Betty Managault, 82, a retired nursing assistant who is Black, said she voted for Biden because he was “a godly man.” She said there was no doubt in her mind that Biden would win the primary but felt it was important for her to vote.
“My ancestors, they died for me to get this right to vote,” she said, as she sat at a table selling sweet grass baskets she’d made.
South Carolina − with a boost from the state’s most prominent Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. − famously saved Biden’s candidacy in 2020 after his initial losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
“Now in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again,” Biden said in a statement after his win Saturday, “and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the presidency again − and making Donald Trump a loser − again.”
Ahead of the general election, Biden has work to do to ensure Black voters support him at the same level they did in 2020. A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll last month found Biden has support of just 63% of Black voters, a sharp decline from the 87% he carried in 2020.
If Black support continues to lag, it could be devastating to Biden’s chances in the fall.
What’s next for Biden’s challengers?
It’s quite clear now: Williamson, the self-help author, and Phillips, congressman from Minnesota pose no threat to Biden, raising questions about how long they plan to stay in the race.
Biden has ignored both and not suffered any consequences as a result.
Their brutal performances in South Carolina came after Biden won the New Hampshire primary overwhelmingly last month even though his name did not appear on the ballot. Biden won as a write-in candidate after Phillips hinged his campaign on claiming a symbolic New Hampshire win in Biden’s absence.
Phillips, who upset many in the party when he launched a late primary challenge in October, has said he will continue to campaign. But his back-to-back blowout losses beg the question whether it is time to bow out.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 3 takeaways from President Joe Biden’s win in South Carolina