Joe Biden was declared the winner of South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary Saturday, benefiting from solid African American support and stopping progressive rival Bernie Sanders’ winning streak.
With just 3 percent of the vote tallied, Biden’s support was at nearly 50%, far ahead of Sanders at just over 18%.
Biden bounced back from less than stellar performances in the first three contests. Saturday’s victory propelled him toward Super Tuesday next week, when 14 states hold primaries and roughly one-third of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination will be at stake.
Competing against Biden next week will be former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, one of the world’s richest men, who has spent more than half a billion dollars courting voters in dozens of states yet to vote.
The South Carolina primary was the first major test of the candidates’ appeal among black voters. Though Biden, 77, won, he must still prove that he has the financial and organizational resources to expand his campaign before Tuesday.
Exit polling, taken before polls closed Saturday, showed that nearly eight out of 10 primary voters in South Carolina had a favorable view of Biden. The polling, by Edison Research, also found that about six in 10 voters said the endorsement of Biden by influential U.S. Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina was a factor in their voting decisions.
South Carolina had been considered Biden’s “firewall” because of the large percentage of African American voters who have long been loyal to him and former President Barack Obama. A loss to Sanders could have forced Biden out of the race.
Exit polls showed that more than half of the Democratic primary voters Saturday were African American. However, that was down slightly from the number of African American primary voters in the state in 2016.
Sanders, an independent and self-described democratic socialist, went into South Carolina as the clear national front-runner after securing a close second-place finish in Iowa and victories in New Hampshire and Nevada.
Also competing Saturday were former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, and businessman and activist Tom Steyer.
Bloomberg was again, by choice, absent from the ballot in South Carolina after also skipping the first three nominating contests.
South Carolina’s open primary allowed registered voters to cast ballots in the primary of their choice. The state Republican Party canceled its primary, ceding the contest to President Donald Trump. The cancellation prompted some Republicans, who greatly outnumber Democrats in the state, to say they would vote for Sanders in the Democratic primary, believing he would be easier for Trump to defeat in November.
There were 54 pledged delegates at stake in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, to be proportionately divided among the candidates who exceeded a 15% threshold of the total votes cast.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.