Joe Biden is banking on South Carolina to save his sinking candidacy. Once deemed the front-runner of the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential primary field, he now has to prove he is up for the country s top spot as other contenders are gaining steam.
Coming off two poor performances in both Iowa and New Hampshire and a very distant second-place finish in Nevada, the campaign has set its sights on the Palmetto State with the hope that a more diverse electorate can pump life back into his lackluster candidacy. But his poor and underwhelming performances thus far have many wondering what s going on with his campaign.
Interestingly, we ve seen this before. Think back to 2016 and Jeb Bush s candidacy in a crowded Republican presidential primary field: The pundits hailed Jeb has the front-runner, polling showed he was the candidate to beat, and the establishment wing of the party threw their support his way both financially and physically. He had high name recognition and a huge war chest, leading many operatives to believe he would be the candidate on the ballot in the general election.
Yet his campaign imploded after disappointing finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. While the losses in Iowa and New Hampshire dealt his campaign a blow, his team still believed they had built a firewall in South Carolina. When he finished in a shocking fourth place, they knew it was time to end his campaign.
There is one notable difference between the two campaigns though: fundraising. Jeb s campaign and his affiliated super PAC had one of the largest political war chests in the field, and still his campaign fizzled out quickly. While the first quarter fundraising reports for 2020 are not public yet, we do know that Biden had his highest fundraising quarter in the fourth quarter of 2019 ahead of the early state contests, raising $22.7 million. Despite this record, he still trails behind rivals Sanders ($34.5 million) and Buttigieg ($24.7 million). This should be a warning sign for his campaign to step up the fundraising efforts if they plan to win South Carolina and are hinging his candidacy on a first-place finish there.
With Nevada s caucus in the rearview mirror, Biden has a lot of work to do ahead of the South Carolina primary. Nevada was the first early state contest to boast a more diverse electorate, and Sanders encroached upon Biden s once significant lead among non-white voters, according to new Washington Post-ABC News polling. In South Carolina, Biden holds a holds a slight lead over Sanders — but the gap is tightening as the primary approaches.
Most concerning is the firewall Biden says he has built is hinged on minority support. The Biden campaign has boasted about his support among minority communities throughout his bid, specifically African American voters. And while he does still hold a lead among non-white voters, that support dropped significantly from 51% in January to 32% in February, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
If Biden is unable to pull off a first-place finish in South Carolina and if Buttigieg or Klobuchar finish above him, he should consider pulling the plug ahead of the Super Tuesday contests. Him staying in the race is splitting the moderate and independent vote between three candidates, which will only hurt the party as it fails to quickly coalesce around one centrist candidate. What s more, Biden s entire campaign strategy has been focused on a general election candidacy, playing to the centrist and independent voter bloc. This strategy appears to be failing, given the split in that critical vote. It would be time for Biden to step aside to prevent another four years of a Trump presidency.
I got on the Biden train very early on — January 2019 to be precise — as a disaffected Republican who is now a registered independent. I believed that his high name recognition, ability to speak to a bipartisan audience, and his centrist platform could make him a viable candidate among moderate, independent and disaffected Republican voters.
I still believe that Joe Biden would be the best candidate to run against Trump in a general election, but it s time to realize that the momentum for his candidacy just isn t there.
For Democrats to beat Trump, they cannot nominate a self-proclaimed socialist such as Bernie Sanders, who doesn t have the ability to transcend partisan politics and win in critical battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan where Democrats lost to Trump in 2016. Biden knows this and it is why he continues to stay in the race. However, the rise of Klobuchar and Buttigieg must be giving him some heartburn due to their ability to reach the same type of voters — even though it can be argued their general election viability (against Trump) isn t as strong as Biden s.
Biden is currently trying to portray himself as the next "comeback kid" on the campaign trail, invoking Bill Clinton, who lost both Iowa and New Hampshire and then went on to win the presidency in 1992. Will that narrative be enough to breathe life back into his campaign?
Sometimes the candidate can have all the right things — staff, resources, campaign framework, name recognition and likeability — and still not be the right candidate for the moment. That s something that Biden may have to come to terms with if he doesn t win in South Carolina.