United States President Joe Biden has comfortably won South Carolina’s Democratic primary, promising afterwards that he would make Republican rival Donald Trump a loser for a second time in November’s election.
Biden on Saturday defeated the other long-shot Democrats on South Carolina’s ballot, including Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips and self-help author Marianne Williamson, notching an overwhelming victory in the state that vaulted him to the White House in 2020.
Kicking off his march to the party’s nomination, Biden secured a massive 96.4 percent of the votes in the first Democratic primary of the 2024 presidential race, US media reports said.
Democrats will now pore over the results to see how well the 81-year-old incumbent, battling low approval ratings, mobilised the Black voters who helped propel him to the White House against Trump, 77, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Biden in the election.
‘Donald Trump a loser’
As the results came in, Biden was at a campaign event in California, as he turned his attention to the next steps in his fight for re-election.
“Now in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the presidency again – and making Donald Trump a loser – again,” Biden said in a statement.
He urged people to get out and vote in November, saying the stakes “could not be higher” if Trump manages a sensational comeback to the Oval Office.
“There are extreme and dangerous voices at work in the country – led by Donald Trump,” he said.
Four years ago, it was South Carolina’s Black vote in the state’s primary that helped ignite Biden’s campaign and ultimately propel him to the White House.
Besides campaign fears that South Carolina’s heavily Black electorate might not be energised this time around, there were also doubts about his age and concerns about high consumer prices and security along the US-Mexican border.
South Carolina has not backed a Democrat for president in the general election since 1976. But because Black people make up the state’s more than half of the Democratic electorate, it presented an important test of Biden’s appeal with a voting base that typically supports Democrats nine-to-one in presidential races.
‘Least popular president’
Carrie Sheffield, senior policy analyst at the advocacy group Independent Women’s Voice, said Biden’s victory in South Carolina does not guarantee him a lead in the presidential race.
“The reality is that this is just a primary and he is the incumbent president, so nobody ever thought he was actually going to lose. But the reality is that President Biden is the least popular president since World War II – that is truly shocking,” she told Al Jazeera.
“His approval ratings are only 33 percent. He is also losing in key battleground states that he won in 2020 against Donald Trump so he is losing overall across the seven battleground states by six points to Trump, and in North Carolina, it’s in double digits. No matter who wins the GOP primary, whether Donald Trump or Nikki Haley, both are beating Biden in the 2024 general election.”
Some South Carolina voters were also lukewarm about Biden’s re-election bid.
“Sometimes I wonder, is his presence enough because you don’t see him a lot, you don’t hear him a lot,” Martin Orr, a school administrator from McConnells, South Carolina, told The Associated Press news agency.
“Is it quiet because of his age or his physical condition, or what’s going on? I think that’s what a lot of people are concerned about right now,” Orr added.
Another issue that is dominating Biden’s re-election campaign is the domestic concerns over the war in Gaza.
For nearly four months now, Israel has been waging a “genocidal” campaign in Gaza, killing more than 27,200 people, displacing almost its entire population and triggering a widespread hunger and health crisis in the besieged enclave.
Israel’s latest campaign against Gaza started after Hamas fighters on October 7 stormed communities in southern Israel, killing more than 1,100 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 240 captives, nearly half of whom have since been released.
Michael Fauntroy, head of the Ronald Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard University, said Biden is walking “a fine line” as he tries to win Jewish votes while also trying to mediate for an end to the fighting inside Gaza.
“He seems to have been working very hard to get the Israelis to slow down and he has not publicly called for a ceasefire, but I think he understands that that is where the US policy will have to go,” Fauntroy told Al Jazeera.