By Jim EllisFeb. 28, 2020 — Former vice president Joe Biden appears on the cusp of winning tomorrow’s South Carolina Democratic primary. His polling has greatly improved, and momentum looks to be on his side.
For more than a year, Biden has enjoyed strong leads in South Carolina but his poor performance in Iowa and New Hampshire, with a slight rebound in Nevada, had caused his Palmetto State margins to tighten. One poll, from Change Research on Feb. 12-14, forecast Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) lapsing into a tie.
Four closing polls were released yesterday, giving Biden leads of between 4 and 28 points, but it is the former poll that seems to be the anomaly. Change Research (Feb. 23-27; 543 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters) projects Biden leading Sen. Sanders and billionaire Tom Steyer, 28-24-16 percent, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) lagging behind with a 12 percent preference factor. Under this poll, the top three finishers would qualify for delegate apportionment.
On the other hand, Emerson College (Feb. 26-27; 425 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters) and Monmouth University (Feb. 23-25; 454 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters) come much closer to Starboard Communications’ (Feb. 26; 1,102 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters; online) 28-point spread line.
Starboard projects Biden leading 40-12-11 percent over Steyer and Sanders. Emerson finds him holding a 17-point lead, while Monmouth posts the former VP to a 20-point advantage. Both Emerson and Starboard find Biden touching the 40 percent mark. Biden’s large leads fail to prevent the Change Research and Monmouth polls from projecting that three of the candidates would earn a share of South Carolina’s 54 first-ballot delegate allotment, however.
To estimate a reasonable delegate count, the Monmouth poll finds a 36-16-15 percent spread for Biden, Sanders, and Steyer. If this poll proved most accurate, the delegate split would approximately be 29-13-12, consecutively, assuming the seven congressional district totals turned in similar ratios.
While Sanders came into South Carolina leading the early delegate count 45-26-15-8-7 over ex-mayor Pete Buttigieg, Biden, Sen. Warren, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), respectively, the new count, if this projection based upon the Monmouth poll proves accurate, would approximately break Sanders 58, Biden 44, Buttigieg 26, Steyer 12, Warren 8, and Klobuchar 7.
Therefore, after his poor 0-3 start in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, Biden would still be only 14 delegates should he perform in South Carolina as projected.
Another story is surfacing that could, if carried to a major extent, have an effect upon tomorrow’s outcome. And, this is something polling would not detect.
A group of Republicans is attracting statewide publicity with their call to GOP voters to participate in the Democratic primary. South Carolina has no party registration. As a result, it is legal for anyone to vote in whichever primary they choose, hence the definition of an open primary.
Because the South Carolina primaries are party-run, the state Republican leaders did not schedule a 2020 primary. Instead, they simply will award all the state’s GOP delegates to President Trump. A large part of the motivation for this decision, and not an uncommon one for either Republican or Democratic parties in a similar position, is finance.
Since the primaries are party administered, the state party apparatus must pay for the election. The Republican state leadership says they are dedicated to spending their money to win seats against Democratic candidates rather than hold a primary where the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
Former Greenville County Republican chairman Stephen Brown is leading an effort, which his ad hoc group calls “Operation Chaos 2020,” and made the following statement: “we are doing this openly, and loudly, to make a very public protest in opposition to open primaries. We want the South Carolina General Assembly to change the election laws to permit certified political parties to hold closed primaries. While our first objective is to protest open primaries, our second objective is to assist the reelection of the president by extending and exacerbating the division among the Democrats.”
Brown went onto say that Democrats have been entering Republican primaries for decades, attempting to nominate the weakest GOP candidate. Now, they say, the effort will not only call attention to the flaws in an open primary system but help President Trump when their followers support Sen. Sanders in the Democratic primary. It is commonly believed that the Vermont lawmaker would be President Trump’s weakest opponent.
It remains to be seen just how many Republicans participate in tomorrow’s primary, but a large enough number doing so could have an effect. At this point, however, it appears Biden is on the precipice of victory and how many other candidates draw delegates from their showing will be the second most important point contained in the final results.
Three days later, voters in 14 states and one territory will cast ballots on Super Tuesday. How much of a boost Biden receives from a strong South Carolina showing will be determined through his delegate count once tabulation concludes in the many states during the wee hours of Wednesday morning.