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Biden Seeks A South Carolina Restoration

A Palmetto state win has rescued fading frontrunners before, but Joe Biden needs something more.
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In 1996, Bob Dole won Iowa’s Republican caucuses by a narrower than expected margin over Pat Buchanan. Buchanan had won Louisiana, where Dole hadn’t even been on the ballot, beating Phil Gramm. He then edged out Dole in New Hampshire, causing real panic among Republican elites. Steve Forbes then defeated Dole in Delaware and Arizona. While the Dakotas held firm for Dole, the erstwhile frontrunner looked to South Carolina to get his campaign back on track.

South Carolina was where George H.W. Bush, Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain essentially finished off insurgent challengers for the Republican nomination. (Ronald Reagan also won there by an even bigger margin than New Hampshire, beginning a triumphant march through the South that helped deliver the nomination to Californian over the ersatz Texan.) Now Joe Biden is looking to the Palmetto State to accomplish the same goal on the Democratic side.

And South Carolinians did their part, especially black voters. Biden’s South Carolina firewall held, and in fairly convincing fashion. But Biden already lost Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, making his ask of South Carolina a heavier lift. Super Tuesday is just a few days away and not only does the better funded Sanders show strength in some states, but billionaire Michael Bloomberg is going to start actively competing with Biden for centrists and anti-Bernie Democrats.

Just as the polls moved away from Biden after previous setbacks, this strong showing in South Carolina could move them again. Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar could drop out. Bloomberg could change his advertising strategy to bashing Bernie rather than promoting himself. This could breathe new life into Biden’s listless, underperforming campaign. Perhaps this coaxes Barack Obama off the sidelines and into an endorsement for his loyal vice president.

But where Bush 41 needed South Carolina to put away Dole and Pat Robertson, Dole needed it to finish off Buchanan and Forbes, Bush 43 needed South Carolinians to put an end to McCain’s realistic path to the nomination and McCain was looking to sideline Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, Biden is asking for more than a leg up over Sanders. He is more of a fallen frontrunner than any of the aforementioned Republicans. He needs South Carolina to restore him to frontrunner status.