On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign will sign up for the South Carolina Democratic primary, the first official showdown and a test of enthusiasm for a president who faces falling support among Black voters in recent polls.
The primary on Feb. 3 will be the first time Biden has to compete in an election since 2020, against two unlikely rivals: Dean Phillips, a congressman from Minnesota, and Marianne Williamson, a self-help author.
Vice President Kamala Harris will join James Clyburn, a congressman from South Carolina and a key Black leader in the country, to speak at a campaign event in Columbia and file the registration papers. “The Biden-Harris coalition will show its strength in South Carolina and will be the way we beat MAGA extremism again in 2024,” said Michael Tyler, the re-election campaign’s communications director. MAGA stands for the “Make America Great Again” movement of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
The registration marks a comeback to a state that Biden says helped him win the White House. While Biden is not likely to face much challenge, a high turnout in the primary in a state where most Democratic voters are Black would ease worries about his chances of winning.
“Even though we know Joe Biden will win the primary, we want to vote as a sign of support and enthusiasm for the president,” said Carol Fowler, a long-time resident of the Palmetto state and a member of the Democratic National Committee.
Biden replaced Iowa and New Hampshire with South Carolina as the first state on the party’s nomination schedule. The change means that any Democratic opponent to Biden has to face him first in South Carolina instead of Iowa and New Hampshire, two mostly white states that both voted against him in 2020.
“It is a recognition of the power of the Black vote by starting the fight in South Carolina,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, the influential civil rights group.
Biden did not sign up for New Hampshire’s primary, scheduled for January, after the state rejected the Democratic Party’s request to delay the date. Phillips and Williamson will take part in the primary, but they will not get any delegates needed to win the nomination.
Presidents who are in office usually do not have to deal with difficult and expensive primaries, and they use the early contests as practice and mobilization tools for the general election.
While no one thinks South Carolina will be a close race – the state has not voted for a Democratic president in a general election since Jimmy Carter’s win there in 1976 – the Biden campaign plans to spend money on a get-out-the-vote effort, including hiring staff, in the next few weeks.
It also plans to spend money on early primaries in Nevada and Michigan, both swing states.
A series of recent polls shows that the diverse coalition that helped Biden get to the White House is breaking apart.
A CNN poll released on Oct. 31 showed that Biden’s overall approval rating in South Carolina was only 33%, lower than his national approval, which has been around 40% in most polls.
The same poll showed that 63% of Black registered voters and 78% of Democratic registered voters in the state gave him good ratings for his job performance.