Biden faces South Carolina test of Black support

Biden faces South Carolina test of Black support

US President Joe Biden faces his first test of support among Black voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary Saturday as he seeks to build momentum against Donald Trump for November's presidential election.

US President Joe Biden on Israel attack 7 October 2023
Photo: AFP

Incumbent Biden is almost certain to win the first official vote in the race for his party's nomination, which comes the day after US retaliatory strikes hit Iran-linked targets in Syria and Iraq following the deaths of three US troops in Jordan.

Turnout will be closely watched: Black voters drove Biden's campaign-saving victory in the 2020 South Carolina primary and then propelled him to the White House, so if they stay away this time then Democrats need to worry.

The 81-year-old has only two long-shot challengers on the ballot against him: Minnesota congressman and gelato magnate Dean Phillips, and best-selling self-help author Marianne Williamson.

A number of recent polls have shown support for Biden slipping among Black voters, especially the young, amid frustration that he has not addressed their priorities despite them backing him four years ago.

Despite the state being likely to remain in Republican hands in November as it has done since 1980, Biden has made it clear he regards it as a proving ground for his ability to maintain the support of Black voters.

"I think the stakes are higher than it’s ever been, you know people have been talking about our democracy being under attack," Biden supporter Samuel Bias, 31, said after a rally by Vice President Kamala Harris on the eve of the primary.

- 'Counting on you' -

Democrats have flocked to South Carolina as the 2024 campaign kicks into gear, with Biden visiting twice since the start of the year, although he is going to California and Nevada this weekend instead.

In a fired-up speech at a historically Black university on Friday, Harris urged supporters not to ignore the contest despite the fact that it will effectively be a coronation for Biden.

"South Carolina, you are the first primary in the nation and President Biden and I are counting on you," she told the rally in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

"We are counting on you to vote and to get everyone you know to vote, to send out text messages, to knock on doors and make your voices heard."

Harris, the first Black and woman vice president in US history, also led a stinging attack on populist former president Trump.

"For years, the former president has stoked the fires of hate and bigotry and racism and xenophobia for his own power and political gain," Harris said.

The message was rammed home by Jim Clyburn, the powerful Black Democratic congressman whose endorsement for Biden in 2020 helped revive his campaign.

- Poll worries -

But the results, due after 7 pm (midnight GMT), will be closely watched to see if Biden's recent focus on attacking Trump as a threat to democracy is paying off with voters.

A New York Times/Siena poll in November found 71 percent of Black voters in six battleground states would back Biden -- down from 91 percent in the election 2020 -- and 22 percent would back Trump.

"I used to be a Democrat for 20 years. I even did the grassroots with Obama," said Regina Sidik, 56, a Black caregiver who attended a pro-Trump press conference in the state capital Columbia this week.

"But now, today after seeing what this world is going to turn out to be, I'm going Trump '24."

The Republican primary promises to be more dramatic than the Democratic, with Trump trying to deal a knock-out blow to former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley on her home turf.


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