The road to the White House is a long one and no one should have assumed former Vice President Joe Biden, previously with a wide lead in the polls, was going to cruise to the Democratic nomination. Following the initial Democratic debate this past week, all the focus is on how the Biden candidacy went from “inevitable” to questionable.
New polling has added to speculation about Biden’s viability. A post-debate CNN poll shows Biden sinking by 10 points, though still leading by 5%. His primary nemesis in the debate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, got the biggest boost, gaining nine points and moving up to second behind Biden. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also jumped, moving into third, while Sen. Bernie Sanders fell from second to fourth.
Though Biden’s performance in the debate moved some toward Harris, it’s premature to pronounce his candidacy doomed.
Biden continues to be seen by Democrats as the best candidate to defeat Republican President Donald Trump, standing at 43% in the CNN poll, 30 points ahead of his nearest competitor, Sanders. His moderate positions on issues such as health care remain more in touch with Americans across the board than do the positions of Harris, Warren and Sanders, all of whom in one form or another are endorsing government-run health care.
And importantly for Biden, he continues to hold strength among African-Americans, at 36% in the CNN poll. Harris is at 24%.
Support among African Americans is particularly vital in the early going of the Democratic primary process. South Carolina is the fourth state on the primary calendar in 2020 and is the first state with a significant African American population to vote. Sixty percent of the primary vote here will be African American.
Winning South Carolina will be essential for Biden. His eight years as vice president for President Barack Obama and his close relationship with the former president are factors in his favor. Polls have shown half of African Americans in the state support him.
For her part, Harris will look to undo Biden in South Carolina. As an African American woman, she no doubt is hoping for an experience similar to that of Obama in 2008. The then-Illinois senator rose from the pack of candidates led by Hillary Clinton to overwhelmingly win the South Carolina primary with more than 80% of African Americans voting for him.
A key location to watch in South Carolina is Orangeburg County, a Democratic bastion in a Republican state. With more than 60 percent of the population being African American, Biden would do well to ensure that his support here is strong.
Presidential candidates have made Orangeburg County a priority stop in the early going of the campaign, though Biden has yet to schedule a visit. Expect to see a lot more of the frontrunners and those trying to break though. And expect to see Joe Biden. He knows what’s at stake here and in the Palmetto State.