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Biden cruises to victory in South Carolina

By AFP - Feb 05,2024 - Last updated at Feb 05,2024

A person votes at a polling location on Saturday, in West Columbia, South Carolina, during the South Carolina Democratic Primary (AFP photo)

CHARLESTON, United States — US President Joe Biden cruised to victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday, saying he would make Republican rival Donald Trump a "loser" in November's election.

Incumbent Biden, 81, kicked off his march to his party's nomination with an overwhelming victory over two far-trailing rivals, according to projections by US media.

But Democrats will be poring over the results of the primary to see if Biden, battling low approval ratings, won the support of Black voters who helped propel him to the White House four years ago.

"Now in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again 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," Biden said in a statement.

The southern US state launched Biden's road to the White House in 2020, when he turned his campaign around after a series of stumbles in earlier primaries.

Biden had only two long-shot challengers in the primary: Minnesota congressman and gelato magnate Dean Phillips, and best-selling self-help author Marianne Williamson.

"Who are the other two people on the ballot? I didn't even look," joked retiree Jane Douglas, 69, as she left a voting station at an elementary school in Charleston.

But there were concerns about turnout, with only a trickle of voters at polling stations visited by AFP in the historic city of Charleston as many people apparently viewed his victory as a foregone conclusion.

Biden himself urged voters to get to the polls in a video on X, formerly Twitter, saying: "South Carolina, go vote today!"

Despite South Carolina being likely to remain in Republican hands in November, as it has done since 1980, Biden regards it as a proving ground for his support among Black voters.

Several voters said Biden’s record as president was mostly satisfactory, while admitting there was a lack of enthusiasm for his second-term bid,  but that they did not want to see Trump win.

“It’s the lesser of two evils,” said Noelle Paris, 63. “It had to be Biden, just because you know again, the most viable candidate in terms of chances. But strong candidate? Not so much in my opinion.”

Biden has made a string of campaign visits to South Carolina but stayed away on Saturday, already turning his attention to next week’s primary in Nevada, where he will hold a campaign event on Sunday.

“I am feeling good about where we are. I really am,” Biden said during a visit to his campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, alongside Vice President Kamala Harris.

A number of recent polls have however shown support for Biden slipping among Black voters, especially youth, amid frustration that he has not addressed their priorities despite them backing him four years ago.

But other polls have showed him edging ahead of Trump or neck-and-neck, even if his personal approval ratings remain at low levels not seen by a sitting president for decades.

“I think he’s done the best he could,” said Annette Hamilton, 63, casting her vote at a church hall in north Charleston. Asked if Biden could win in November, she replied: “I pray to God he will.”


‘Counting on you’ 


Biden also pointed to his victory in an unofficial primary in New Hampshire, despite the fact that he was not on the ballot and voters had to write him in.

Biden pushed for South Carolina, whose population is 23 percent Black, to be at the front of the Democratic primary calendar this year, above New Hampshire, whose population is almost entirely white.

Democrats have made major campaigning efforts, with Biden visiting twice this year, including to a Charleston church where a racist gunman killed nine parishioners in 2015.

The Republican primary on February 24 promises to be more dramatic than the Democratic, with Trump trying to deal a knock-out blow to former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley on her home turf.


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