CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – In a resounding win Saturday in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, Joe Biden now looks to carry momentum into next week’s Super Tuesday.
With all 2,259 precincts reporting in at 12:30 a.m. Eastern, the former vice president carried an overwhelming lead over the other Democratic candidates. Biden won with 48% of the total votes, while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who came off a big win in Nevada, ran a distant second at 19%. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who spent over $22 million in advertising in the state, came in third with 11% and announced Saturday night he’s dropping out of the race.
Biden thanked his supporters in Columbia, saying that Saturday’s win will help propel him on Super Tuesday.
“Just days ago, the press and pundits had declared this candidacy dead,” Biden said “Because of you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we just won and we won big because of you. We are very much alive.”
Assistant professor of politics at Coastal Carolina University Drew Kurlowski says the caucus poses as a litmus test for Democratic hopefuls.
“South Carolina Democratic voters are more diverse than the other early primary states and Democrats here tend to me more moderate than those in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada,” Kurlowski said.
He said South Carolina Democrats tend to be more concerned about economics rather than social issues, which tend to be more important to Democrats in more liberal states.
About 60% of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina is African American and it’s the first state on the election calendar that has a minority majority in its party’s electorate.
“Winning the minority vote in South Carolina can give a lot of momentum to a campaign,” Kurlowski said. “It’s also important to note that South Carolina’s primary is the last one before Super Tuesday.”
Steyer announced the end of his candidacy Saturday night, saying “honestly, I can’t see a path where I can win the presidency.” He thanked his supporters and said he wouldn’t forget South Carolina.
“The people who have endorsed me have stood up in a very red state where I have seen things that have broken my heart,” Steyer said.
The outcome of South Carolina’s primary also provides the party insight as to how the remaining candidates will perform in other Southern states.
This year’s primary is particularly important because Sanders has very strong performances in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and he hasn’t been as favored among minorities in South Carolina. In the 2016 primary, Hillary Clinton won the state 73% to Bernie’s 26%.
Kurlowski said a big win for the Biden campaign Saturday could give him more momentum.
“This primary will be a second last ditch effort for [former Vice President] Joe Biden. Polls indicate he will win SC because of his appeal to the state’s minority voters. A win for him here will restore his campaign donors confidence,” he said.
Democratic Representative Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden this week is also thought to bolster his appeal among the state’s minorities. The venerated congressman and House majority whip has served the state’s 6th District since 1993.
According to poll workers at West Ashley High School in Charleston, they were seeing a steady flow of voters throughout the day. Some voters exiting the poll were happy to express their support for various candidates.
Charleston resident Michael Taylor said he came out to the polls to support Biden.
“I want to see change in our government, it’s currently a circus. I like Biden because I think he can beat (President Donald) Trump and I think he’ll pick up where he and (President Barack) Obama left off.”
Morgan Rodriguez said she liked Sanders but his comments praising Fidel’s Castro regime for lifting literacy rates in Cuba offended her and her family.
“I’m Cuban; I can’t believe it said that. I voted for [Pete] Buttigieg because he falls in the middle. I like he’s proposed policies that help veterans, his views about healthcare reform and on immigration,” she said.
Former Republican voter Kathy Norris said she proudly supports Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“She has a good track record and she gets things done. I like that she want to excuse student debt because I have three grown children who have a lot of student debt,” Norris said. “I like a lot of what Sanders says, but I don’t support him because I don’t think he is as electable. I think voters are skittish about him because he’s a self proclaimed Socialist Democrat.”
Seven candidates remain in the race, though that might change on Super Tuesday when 14 states hold their primaries, representing about a third of all delegates.