New York: Former US Vice President Joe Biden has scored a runaway victory in the Democratic primary in South Carolina for the party's presidential nomination resetting his campaign after bad losses in three states.
"We are very much alive," Biden told his supporters on Saturday night after TV networks declared him the winner based on exit polls. "Pundits had declared this candidature dead, but we won big," he said.
Early results showed him leading with about half votes in the state and the self-described democratic socialist trailed him with about 20 per cent of the ballots, a setback after getting the most popular votes in the three states. Although his performance in South Carolina infused optimism in the campaign of Biden, who was once described as a front-runner, the big test for him and other candidates will be on Tuesday when 14 states will be holding their primaries.
In the other polls held so far, Biden ended up fifth in New Hampshire, fourth in Iowa and second in Nevada. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is opposed by the party establishment, is leading in polls in three large states -- California, Texas and Virginia -- where the "Super Tuesday" polls will be held, according to RealClear Politics (RCP) which aggregates polls.
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg who has spent about $380 million of his own money in TV ads and social media campaign across the country will be on the ballot on Tuesday, having skipped the first four polls. Another billionaire, Tom Steyer, who spent about $18 million for TV ads in South Carolina, dropped out of the race after getting only about 11 per cent of the votes.
President Donald Trump poured scorn on Bloomberg, tweeting: "Sleepy Joe Biden's victory in the South Carolina Democrat Primary should be the end of Mini Mike Bloomberg's Joke of a campaign. After the worst debate performance in the history of presidential debates, Mini Mike now has Biden split up his very few voters, taking many away!"
Sanders is also ahead in national polls followed by Biden and Bloomberg, according to RCP. After the South Carolina poll showed his momentum stalling, the veteran politician told his supporters that his campaign will march ahead on Super Tuesday. "We are more than a campaign, we are movement of millions of people who demand social justice," he said at a campaign stop in Virginia.
Former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg grabbed national attention by running neck and neck in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first to hold the party poll. But those states are about 90 per cent white unlike the rest of the country. He ended up fifth in South Carolina with about 8 per cent of the votes in early results.
African-American voters, who are the steadfast base of the Democratic Party, made up 55 per cent of the voters in the South Carolina primary, according to exit polls, and they overwhelmingly went for Biden. The 78-year-old Sanders is the most popular candidate among young people with his radical agenda that includes free college, government-run healthcare and minimum wage of $15 per hour.
His challenge will be to get African-Americans to vote for him, although he did well with the Latinos in Nevada, where they were the biggest minority bloc. The party establishment is against Sanders because they fear that his radical policies and self-identification as a socialist would turn off moderate voters in the November general election giving Trump a victory. It also feared that Democrats running for Congress may be pulled down by their placement on the ballots with him.
A recent assessment by the intelligence agencies that Russia was helping Sanders was leaked to the media, but it does not seem to have blunted his appeal. The centrist Biden has been the establishment candidate and Bloomberg, who is right of centre, is waiting in the wings. He is the owner of the news financial service that bears his name and is a former mayor of New York.
Hindu-American candidate Tulsi Gabbard polled only about 1 per cent of the votes in South Carolina and about that or less in the other three states. Gabbard, who supported Sanders in the 2016 poll against Hillary Clinton, is running for only national recognition with no chance of victory. Also in the fray are Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leftist who shares many ideological points with Sanders, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who positions herself along with Buttigieg as a centrist alternative to Biden.