COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – The fight for the Democratic nomination in 2020 turned to South Carolina on Saturday for the first southern primary, with Joe Biden confident that his popularity among black voters will seal him a victory and help to diminish some of the dynamics of leader Bernie Sanders.
The main one is the first marker for a critical four-day period that will help determine whether the party unites behind Sanders or adopts a longer and uglier job that could continue until the national convention.
"Only two things are going to happen: Bernie or intermediaries," said James Carville, a veteran Democrat strategist.
Carville is uncomfortable with a Sanders nomination, but he fears that an intermediary convention – in which party chiefs or delegates in fights and negotiations will decide the candidate after no candidate has accumulated enough delegates in the primary – will also cause serious damage to the party. "It is difficult for me to see beyond both options," he said.
In Saturday's primaries, Biden and his allies hope to slow Sanders' rise – and change the race's trajectory – with a convincing victory demonstrating his strength among African Americans. But just three days later, Sanders believes he is positioned to take advantage of a big delegate advantage when 14 states and a U.S. territory vote for "Super Tuesday".
After two straight wins and a tie for the Iowa leadership, the 78-year-old senator from Vermont is growing in confidence.
Sanders will pass Super Tuesday's lead in campaign on the two main Democratic rivals, betting that he can deliver a double knockout blow – or at least limit the size of his victories.
In a power play, Sanders will host a midday Saturday rally in downtown Boston, campaigning in the heart of the political territory of progressive ally Elizabeth Warren. And on the eve of Super Tuesday, Sanders will have a concert in Minnesota, where Senator Amy Klobuchar is looking for her first victory.
Senior adviser Jeff Weaver said Sanders is aggressively looking for delegates, noting that his campaign experience during the 2016 primary against Hillary Clinton taught them that any candidate who finishes Super Tuesday with a significant delegate lead will be difficult to understand.
"I am confident that we will do very, very well across the country," said Weaver of the next four days. He also sought to downplay the importance of South Carolina, where "Biden is expected to win".
"Expectations can be broken," added Weaver. "But, for the vice president, he needs an extraordinarily big victory in South Carolina in order to convince people that he will be able to distance himself."
At a demonstration in North Charleston on Friday, Trump asked the crowd if Biden or Sanders would be the best Democratic opponent for him.
"I think Bernie is easier to win," said Trump.
The audience seemed to agree, applauding the mention of Sanders and booing the mention of Biden. Some state Republican Party leaders have even urged Republican voters to participate in Saturday's Democratic primary and vote for Sanders.
However, the Democrats' primary elections for 2020 are far from a two-person race.
In South Carolina, billionaire activist Tom Steyer spent more than $ 19 million on television advertising – more than all the other candidates combined – in his quest for his first prize in four contests. Without giving in, Pete Buttigieg is struggling to prove he can build a multiracial coalition. And with the help of super PACs, Warren and Klobuchar promised to keep moving forward, no matter how they end on Saturday.
New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg is not competing in South Carolina, but he broke spending records after investing hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising on Super Tuesday, supported by a horde of paid employees in virtually every state in the country. . It could emerge as Sanders' strongest alternative in the coming days or, unintentionally, it could help Sanders split the anti-Sanders vote.
Still, Saturday marks Biden's last and best chance to shine.
The former vice president's campaign started the week cautiously optimistic, even when he predicted victory and began attacking Sanders more aggressively.
"This nation is not looking for a revolution as some people are talking about," Biden said on Friday at Sumter, slapping Sanders' call to action. "They are looking for progress. They are looking for results."
After a solid performance in the debate on Tuesday, the 77-year-old Democrat was more excited about the campaign and his advisers were more confident, supported by new support from elected officials.
Biden has accumulated much more support than his rivals over the year and added another big name for a Super Tuesday state, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, on Friday. This happened two days after he was endorsed by South Carolina representative James Clyburn.
In short, Biden's senior adviser, Symone Sanders, stopped calling South Carolina's "firewall" and called it "stepping stone", along with how the state boosted the presidential aspirations of Barack Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 2016.
In fact, South Carolina represents much more than the fourth state on the Democrats' primary calendar month.
It serves as the first major test of candidates' strength with African-American voters, who will play a critical role in the general election and the rest of the main season.
Approximately 3 out of 10 people of voting age in South Carolina are black, according to census data.
"South Carolina speaks in a way that these other states have failed in terms of who is voting and the diversity of our vote," said James Smith, a Democratic nominee for governor of South Carolina in 2018.
In the short term, Super Tuesday features some southern states, such as Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina, where African-American voting will be decisive. And in the long run, the final Democratic candidate will struggle to defeat Trump, unless he or she generates more enthusiasm among black voters than Clinton four years ago.
Although voting technology has been a concern in two of the last three major contests, South Carolina uses a wide range of voting technologies that present unique challenges.
Saturday's election in South Carolina marks the first statewide test of its new fleet of electronic voting machines, a $ 50 million upgrade to an old, vulnerable system that had no individual voting records. The new machines produce a paper record that can be checked by the voter and checked after the election to detect any malfunction or manipulation.
Meanwhile, some of South Carolina's top Democrats were concerned that the intensity of the anti-Sanders movement in their own party would undermine their quest to deny Trump a second term.
Gilda Cobb-Hunter, representative of the state of South Carolina and president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, has warned Democrats who vehemently oppose Sanders to "stop being stupid". While she is on Steyer's payroll, she said that "of course" would support Sanders if he emerged as a candidate.
"As a black woman, I cannot allow white people to resent determining who will be the next president or not," she said. "Their resentment does not translate into the struggle and hell that communities of color will continue to face – and worse – if Trump is re-elected."
Informed people of New York. Associated Press authors Will Weissert in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Charleston, S.C. contributed to this report.