Democrats flip red-leaning state Senate seat in Pennsylvania

WASHINGTON — Democrats on Tuesday flipped a suburban Pittsburgh state Senate district that voted for President Trump in 2016, a victory Democrats hope foreshadows a successful 2020 election cycle for the party. 

Democrat Pat Iovino defeated Republican D. Raja in the special election by about 4 percentage points, less than a 3,000 vote margin of victory.

The district went for Trump by 6 points in 2016, but a significant portion of it overlaps with the red-leaning congressional district Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb won during a high-profile special election in 2017. 

Democrats trumpeted their overperformance in special elections ahead of the 2018 elections as proof that their party was energized ahead of the midterm elections, and Democrats did in fact make strong gains in GOP-held seats last year. So they're hopeful the string of recent successes in Pennsylvania—including Democratic victories in Republican-held congressional districts—suggests they're on track to improve on their disappointing 2016 in the state.

But the electoral climate is extremely different between a special election in an off-year and a presidential cycle—in 2016, Republican Guy Reschenthaler won the same state Senate district with about three times the votes as Iovino did in her special election win. 

The Pennsylvania seat wasn't the only special election on Tuesday—the state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin, another possible scene-setter for 2020, is likely headed to the recount with the Republican candidate ahead by a narrow margin.

DNC holds briefing with House Dems amid concerns of contested convention

WASHINGTON — As questions swirl around the possibility of a contested convention, the Democratic National Committee held a briefing for House Democrats on the convention rules and insisted that a candidate must have a majority of delegates to win the party's nomination.

The briefing comes as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the delegate leader after the first three nominating contests, indicated at the NBC News debate in Las Vegas and on Twitter that the winner of a plurality of delegates, not a majority as written in DNC rules, should be the nominee.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez addresses the Women's March at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, on Jan. 20, 2018.Cliff Owen / AP file

Sanders’ statements have concerned some Democrats who are already nervous about Sanders winning the nomination and the impact he could have on candidates down-ballot.

“What we’re concerned about is we all follow the rules,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and a member of the DNC said after the briefing. “I think the rules are important, they were passed, and whatever the candidates are saying, the rules are the most important thing to comply with.”

The rules say that the nominee must win a majority — 1,991 of the 3,979 —  of the delegates available heading into the convention in Milwaukee in July. If no candidate wins after the first round at the convention, then a second round of voting takes place and considers the votes of what used to be known as superdelegates. This group consists of current and former elected members of Congress, governors and presidents.

Sanders, who pressured the DNC to rewrite the rules after 2016 and diminish the role of superdelegates, fears that the superdelegates will overturn the will of the voters supporting him in a second round of voting at the convention.

Some Democrats running for re-election in red and purple districts worry that having a Democratic Socialist on the top of the ticket will turn off suburban voters key to winning House and Senate seats.

Sanders backer, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said that Sanders isn’t trying to circumvent the process.

“If you have someone who has 45 percent of the vote and the next person has 20 percent, then I think it’s important for that second round of people to consider the will of the voters and to consider the will of the voters in the states,” Jayapal said.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., also a Sanders supporter, said that the party should get behind the person who wins a plurality of delegates.

“I do think the party should get around the plurality winner. I'm hopeful that President Obama may do that. You know, I'm hopeful President Obama will play that role,” Khanna said.

Perhaps an indication of the unease about the Democratic primary, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said that someone in the party stood up to nominate House Speaker Pelosi for president at the briefing.

“Somebody nominated Pelosi for president," Himes said. "She said, ‘I like my job. You're not getting rid of me that easy.'"

South Carolina Democratic Party ready for its say in 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two days before the Democratic presidential primary here, South Carolina Democratic Party executive director says voters are making up their own minds on who to support — not looking at who did well in other states. 

"Our voters have really looked at these candidates through their own unique lens without worrying about what people everywhere else are saying," Jay Parmley said. 

He added, "When people say, 'Oh, you have someone to bounce out of [a state]', that just doesn't seem to translate on the ground." 

Parmley noted that that's why South Carolinians aren't shocked at some polls that show philanthropist Tom Steyer in second or third place, or why former Vice President Joe Biden has been able to maintain a lead. 

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to guests during a campaign stop at the Winyah Indigo Society Hall on Feb. 26, 2020 in Georgetown, South Carolina.Scott Olson / Getty Images

However, the SCDP does feel that whoever wins in South Carolina still has the best chance to carry the nomination. Parmley said, "Our diverse electorate gives people an opportunity to do well and also I think it mirrors a ton of the rest of the country." 

That's the strategy that Biden hopes carry him into Super Tuesday, and the mindset of some who say the primary calendar should change to reflect the demographics of the Democratic Party and not start the nominating contests in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire

"If we win in November, then the four early states don't matter in 2024, so they may push the decision off a while," Parmley said. "But I do think, though, this will be revisited." 

While the presidential primary may be over for South Carolinians on Saturday night, the SCDP is actively looking toward their down-ballot races which, Parmley said, has an unofficial start date of Monday. But those races have lost a lot of oxygen from the presidential race, leaving some down-ballot candidates like Rep. Joe Cunningham, and the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, Jaime Harrison, in a hard position. 

Parmley said that while it's easier when down-ballot candidates can wholeheartedly endorse the party's nominee, it won't be a necessity in 2020. 

"It's a needle we may have to thread," Parmley said. "We're going to go out and fight for our down ballot races, no matter who the nominee is. And sure some people may make it easier and some people may make it harder, but I would argue that's the case of any of them anywhere." 

Pelosi projects unity of House Democrats as Sanders rises

WASHINGTON — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., projected complete unity within the House Democratic Caucus Thursday when it comes to the idea of backing the eventual presidential nominee of their party. 

At Pelosi’s weekly press conference, NBC News asked Pelosi what she’s telling her members about Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who might be nervous about what his possible victory in the Democratic race would mean for down-ballot races. 

“The presidential is its own race. Contrary to what you may be hearing or writing, we are not getting — we are all unified. Whoever the nominee is of our party, we will wholeheartedly support,” she said. “Our gospel is one of unity, unity, unity. So I don’t have the experience that you may have described."

Pelosi said that her responsibility is to win the House again in November with a “mainstream and non-menacing” message. When asked if Sanders has been delivering such a message, she demurred. The Speaker of the House said that Democrats already demonstrated their ability to win in the 2018 midterms by owning the ground game with their mobilization efforts, messaging and money. 

Pelosi added that the Democratic Party will support the candidate who wins a majority of delegates, which is not what Sanders has previously said he would do if the situation arose.

“Whoever the nominee is, we will support with respect for his or her positions and hopefully with their respect for our positions as well," Pelosi said.

CPAC speakers celebrate Romney's absence, prompting cheers

OXON HILL, Md. — Multiple speakers at the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference took aim at Senator Mitt Romney Thursday morning, celebrating the Utah GOP senator's absence from CPAC and prompting applause from the crowd.

During a session featuring Republican Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said he feels “a little tongue in cheek” about Romney.

Mitt Romney acknowledges supporters as he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md. on March 15, 2013.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file

Schlapp said that not having Romney at CPAC “worked out just fine,” which resulted in cheers from the audience.

“You can stand for that too,” Schlapp added.

Meadows retorted by asking Schlapp, "You mean they would rather have Donald Trump here than Mitt Romney?”

Schlapp excluded Romney from the event after the senator broke with the GOP and President Donald Trump during the impeachment trial, voting to convict the president on one article of impeachment.

Schlapp noted he’d be worried for the senator’s “physical safety" if he attended the conference.

The President of Turning Point USA, a non-profit organization that aims to educate and organize primarily conservative students to “promote freedom” per its website, name-checked Romney for his vote.

Charlie Kirk labelled the impeachment of Donald Trump an unconstitutional sham. The mention of Romney's name sparked booing from the crowd.

"Every time his name is mentioned, you should respond that way," Kirk said. "Because he lied to every single person in this room that knocked on doors for him, that made phone calls for him, that donated to his campaign."

Kirk also accused Romney of belonging to the "same political class that President Trump ran against,” even accusing President Barack of Obama of being a “Marxist president” that Romney was supposed to crusade against.

CPAC continues through Sunday with headliners like Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and President Trump attending the days-long event. The conference theme is "America vs. Socialism."

Klobuchar cleans up on endorsements — from newspaper editorial boards

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has been raking in the endorsements — from newspaper editorial boards.

Despite not having large numbers of congressional or celebrity supporters that some of the other candidates have, Klobuchar has received the backing of a dozen newspaper editorial boards. 

The papers formally supporting Klobuchar span across early and Super Tuesday states, from New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada as well as several publications in upcoming primary states like the San Francisco Chronicle, Mercury News/East Bay Times, the Houston Chronicle, The Seattle Times. 

Amy Klobuchar meets with supporters and volunteers at one of her campaign offices on Nevada Caucus day in Las Vegas, Nev., on Feb. 22, 2020.Patrick Fallon / Reuters

“We have our sights not just on Super Tuesday but beyond since Washington state is a week after Super Tuesday," Klobuchar said at a kick-off event at her Las Vegas office on the morning of the Nevada caucuses while ticking off the endorsements. "We're really excited about what's happening as we go forward.”

Klobuchar only has six endorsements from fellow members of Congress, all but one coming from fellow Minnesotans.

Two of the candidate's editorial board endorsements were split with other candidates. The New York Times endorsement was shared with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and the Las Vegas Weekly backing was joint with former Vice President Joe Biden.

She did lose out on the endorsement of The Boston Globe, which went to Warren, and The State — the second largest newspaper in South Carolina — which went to Pete Buttigieg. 

While the editorial boards consist of largely white, educated people across the country, Klobuchar nevertheless argues that she can appeal to a large, diverse electorate and offer voters the “receipts” of her record to prove that she can get things done.

Courting the endorsements is part of the strategy, campaign staff told NBC News, to put Klobuchar in front of a broad swath of voters to win them over.

“It’s time for Democrats to look beyond fiery speeches, beyond big ticket promises devoid of price tags, and if possible, beyond the cinematic beckoning of that billionaire button-down Messiah stalking your smartphone," the Houston Chronicle editorial board wrote. The newspaper added that people simply have to ask: "Who can really get things done?”

“Who can get proposals past the gauntlets of the federal judiciary and congressional gridlock? In the current field only Klobuchar and Joe Biden have a track record of bipartisan effectiveness in Washington," the editorial board continued. "Biden, in his third bid for president, hasn’t articulated the fresh vision needed.”

The recent endorsement did, however, bring up previous reporting about how Klobuchar treats her staff, noting that “if Klobuchar wants Americans to believe she’s the decent, empathetic antidote to Trump, she should prove it with her staff.”

In her most recent endorsement from the Bangor Daily News, a small newspaper in Maine, the paper said that Klobuchar was the only candidate to speak to them, and that she “brings needed realism, a track record of hard work, and an understanding of rural America to the job."

Amy Klobuchar.NBC News

According to the Maine newspaper, "she also has a record of winning in more conservative rural areas and among swing voters, important qualities in a Democratic nominee who will face President Donald Trump in November.”

The Bangor Daily News also argued that having Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., as the nominee poses “a danger for Democrats."

"Having an avowed socialist at the top of the ticket could hurt the party’s candidates for the U.S. House and Senate,” the editorial board said, echoing a point that Klobuchar herself has often insinuated on the trail. 

Biden holds big lead in new South Carolina primary poll

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a 20-point lead over Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders in a new Monmouth University poll of South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary, with 36 percent to Sanders' 16 percent. 

With the Palmetto State primary this coming Saturday, philanthropist and billionaire Tom Steyer sits at 15 percent, the only other candidate to hit double-digits in the poll. 

On which side of the 15-percent mark candidates like Steyer and Sanders hit will be important, if Saturday's results hem close to the poll's findings. That's because 19 of the state's delegates to the Democratic National Convention are allocated proportionately by the statewide results of the primary, but are only split amongst the candidates who reach that 15-percent threshold. 

Joe Biden shakes hands with Rep. James Clyburn, R-S.C., after receiving Clyburn's endorsement for president in North Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 26, 2020.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Behind the top three candidates in the poll are Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 8 percent, former South bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 6 percent, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 4 percent and Hwaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard with 1 percent. 

Fifteen percent of likely primary voters told Monmouth that they were undecided, and only 40 percent of likely primary voters said they were set on their choice. 

When just looking at black voters, who typically make up the majority of the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate, Biden holds an even bigger lead. He has support from 45 percent of black voters, compared to Steyer's 17 percent and Sanders' 13 percent. 

Biden has long been banking on South Carolina, a state in which he has formed deep relationships during his time in politics and one where black voters (one of his strongest constituencies) are are powerful voting bloc.

But Steyer has invested heavily there, spending more than $20 million on the airwaves through Thursday, according to Advertising Analytics. 

And Sanders is looking to ride his strong showings in the first three nominating contests into South Carolina, where all of the candidates are looking for a bounce ahead of Super Tuesday, which comes just days after the primary. 

Biden campaign mobilizes in Super Tuesday states

GEORGETOWN, S.C. — The Biden campaign said Wednesday it’s launching a new six-figure, “multi-channel” paid media campaign in Super Tuesday states to push early voting – with a special emphasis on reaching African American voters.

The ad “Service,” which has been running in SC this week including just before the debate and features President Obama’s remarks when he presented Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, will be on the air in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The ad buys will target shows and stations that over-perform with African American viewership, the campaign said. Separately, the campaign will run radio ads in Texas and North Carolina talking about how Biden will build on the Obama legacy. 

In California, North Carolina and Texas, they are running digital ads on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube also focused on the early vote. 

Those television ads will be Biden's first primarily targeted to Super Tuesday states — other ads have run in states holding elections on Super Tuesday, but those ads aired in markets that also covered portions of the early primary states (like the Boston media market, which covers large portions of New Hampshire). 

The campaign calls its limited ad spending “strategic” — another way of reflecting the campaign’s limited ability to compete with deep-pocketed rivals on the airwaves in Super Tuesday states. Through Tuesday, Biden's camp had only spent about $46,000 there on television and radio advertising, according to Advertising Analytics, the least of any Democratic candidate left on the ballot. 

And Biden's affiliated super-PAC, Unite the County, hasn't run an ad in a Super Tuesday state either. 

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has already spent $172.3 million in those states, while billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer has spent more than $35 million. Both are funding their own campaigns with their massive personal wealth. 

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign has spent $11 million in Super Tuesday states; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has spent $1.7 million; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has spent $543,000; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has spent $338,000 and former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg has. spent $363,000. 

Super-PACs backing Warren and Klobuchar are also up on the air, and all of those campaigns have more ad spending already booked. 

So no matter the total size of the six-figure investment, Biden will still trail the Super Tuesday television and radio spending of most of, if not all of his rivals. 

Separately, the campaign announced today a reallocation of staff in the states that follow Super Tuesday – Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Missouri and Washington – in addition to staff already in California, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Florida.

In a statement, Biden campaign Super Tuesday States director Molly Ritner said: "Over the past few months, we have continued to build a strong team on the ground in Super Tuesday states — and we’re excited today to add to our Super Tuesday team while also building out our battleground state operation. Joe Biden has built the broad and diverse coalition that we know it will take to beat Donald Trump, and these resources will allow us to continue to bring the Vice President’s message to the voters that we know make up the base of our party.”

Jim Clyburn endorses Joe Biden

CHARLESTON, S.C. — House Majority Whip, and influential South Carolina Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn made his endorsement of Joe Biden official on Wednesday morning, praising the former vice president's record and years of service for the state. 

Clyburn's endorsement comes after NBC News learned he would endorse the former Vice President, but held off on the announcement until after Tuesday night's Democratic debate. Clyburn first announced the endorsement in a tweet, before appearing with Biden in person, writing, "Joe Biden has stood for the hard-working people of South Carolina. We know Joe, but more importantly, he knows us." 

However, Clyburn said he struggled to decide if he should make an endorsement in this race even though he had long decided who he would vote for. He said it was not until he met an elderly constituent at his accountant’s Richland County funeral last week that Clyburn realized he could not stay silent. The constituent said they were waiting to hear from Clyburn before deciding who they would vote for. 

"I decided, then and there, that I would not stay silent," Clyburn said. 

Clyburn continued, "I want the public to know that I am voting for Joe Biden, South Carolina should be voting for Joe Biden." 

As the House Majority Whip and the longest serving Democrat from South Carolina, Clyburn’s influence in the “first-in-the-South” primary is immense given his extensive networks to mobilize support. While his endorsement was not a surprise, it comes at a time when Biden needed an extra vote of confidence to prevent opponents from eroding his support among African American community.

"Nobody with whom I've ever worked with public life, is anymore committed to that motto, that pledge that I have to my constituents than Joe Biden," Clyburn said. "I know his heart, I know who he is, I know what he is." 

Following Clyburn’s remarks, Biden was visibly emotional, wiping away tears from his eyes as he recounted how kind Clyburn and his deceased wife Emily have been to him throughout his career. Echoing Clyburn, Biden boldly stated that South Carolinians and the country are not talking about wanting a “revolution” — a jab at Sen. Bernie Sanders. Instead, he said people are looking for results, which he and Clyburn have been able to do at the national level when they spearheaded the Affordable Care Act and Recovery Act through Congress.

"Jim has a voice of powerful, powerful moral clarity that's heard loud and clear in the nation's capital, and he always reminds us, reminds everyone on both sides of the aisle that it's about you, family and community," Biden said. 

He continued, "I'm here, heart and soul, with everything I've got to earn the support of the people of South Carolina." 

Biden's strategy relies on him to do well in South Carolina to give him necessary momentum going into Super Tuesday next week. Projecting confidence, Biden believed that if he wins South Carolina with the help of Clyburn and his constituents, there will be no stopping his campaign.

"If you send me out of South Carolina with a victory, there will be no stopping us. We will win the nomination, we will win the presidency and most importantly we'll the eliminate the fear so many have in this country of a second term of Donald Trump," Biden said.  

New Buttigieg campaign memo outlines strategy for Super Tuesday and beyond

CHARLESTON, S.C. —  More than one third of the total delegates to the Democratic National Convention are up for grabs in Democratic primary races on Super Tuesday, and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign is asserting that he has no intention of exiting the Democratic race before then.

A new campaign memo, obtained by NBC News, states, “this race will not be determined on Super Tuesday” if Buttigieg is able to raise enough money to stay in the competition for the long haul and limit Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to no more than a lead of 350 pledged delegates on March 3. 

The memo outlines that the Buttigieg campaign’s focus is less about winning specific states and, instead, about targeting specific congressional districts and blunting Sanders’ momentum. 

Pete Buttigieg speaks at a campaign event in Carson City, Nev., on Feb. 17, 2020.Eric Thayer / Reuters

“In the current multi-candidate field, Super Tuesday contests are highly favorable to Senator Sanders, but his position will diminish dramatically as the field of candidates narrows and contests move to the Midwest,” the memo states. 

Internal polling and research suggests that voters casting ballots in the March 10th and 17th contests, are “much more favorable” to Buttigieg, per the memo. 

“We know that if we do not shrink Sanders’ margin of victory coming out of Super Tuesday, he will have too great a lead in the delegate race for anyone to catch up,” the memo reads. 

The Buttigieg campaign’s strategy for trimming Sanders’ margins in Super Tuesday states will include ad buys to help bolster the name recognition of the mayor to peel off Sanders’ support by congressional district — where delegates are up for grabs by any candidate who can get at least 15 percent support. 

On Tuesday, Buttigieg launched advertisements for the first time in all Super Tuesday states except Tennessee and Utah, with a $3.5 million investment in 22 specific media markets targeting congressional districts through the local and national cable television airwaves, digital efforts and on Hulu and Roku.

“Because of how delegates are awarded at the individual district level, we can precisely target each district on platforms like YouTube and Facebook without any geographic spillage.” the memo explains.

Buttigieg is also slated to target these areas with in-person public campaign events in this final week. He plans to visit Selma, Ala., Austin, Texas, and Oklahoma City, Okla. 

However, the campaign will need to raise more money to be competitive in these states.The campaign, which has said it employed more than 500 individuals on staff, is explicit in the memo in its need to raise $13 million by Super Tuesday to stay competitive. 

The Buttigieg campaign did not move resources to several Super Tuesday states until just over a week ago and they’re going up with their first television ads this week lagging behind many of their competitors. 

A new 30-second spot titled, “Urgent” will run in 12 Super Tuesday states: Alabama, Arkansans, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. 

The campaign is banking on the premise that the field “will significantly winnow after Super Tuesday,” and ultimately, this plan will only work if the moderate lane of candidates gets smaller.

A senior Buttigieg aide told NBC News, “I think it's incumbent on anyone who doesn’t have a clear path to think long and hard about staying in the race.” 

Bloomberg surrogates preview debate tactics against Sanders

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Hours ahead of the Democratic debate in South Carolina, surrogates for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg held a press conference targeting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the need for him to be “vetted” now that he’s a “front-runner.”

Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., Columbia, S.C. Mayor Steve Benjamin, Augusta, Ga. Mayor Hardie Davis, former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and former Flint, Mich. Mayor Karen Weaver — all elected officials of color — slammed Sanders for his record, particularly on gun control.

“We need a candidate who's fully vetted that can go on to defeat Donald Trump. We don't believe that Senator Sanders has passed this test,” said Benjamin.

Sen. Bernie Sanders walks behind Mike Bloomberg at a Democratic presidential primary debate in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, 2020.Mike Blake / Reuters

All of the speakers at the press conference hit Sanders’ multiple votes against the Brady bill, legislation which required a waiting period for gun purchases and background checks.

“No one, not any of them, has a perfect record when it comes to the issues that are important to the black community,” Meeks said. “Too often Bernie Sanders has been on the wrong side of history, missing in action or unable to make progress on virtually every issue for black voters.”

Meeks noted that while Bloomberg has apologized for his past mistakes on policies such as stop and frisk, Sanders “has not been clear” in where he has failed on issues like gun reform.

“While we welcome that Bernie Sanders has changed his position on some things, he has strongly criticized other Democratic candidates for their previous policies, even after they have acknowledged they were wrong,” Meeks added.

The campaign surrogates also promised a "180 degree shift" in Bloomberg's debate performances. 

"Number one, I think that the first half of the debate when you had over sixty people attacking him, it was a poor response," Meeks said on Bloomberg's first debate performance. "He's gotta defend himself. I think he did better in the second half of the debate. And I think that you'll see a 180 degree shift tonight."

How previous Dems won South Carolina and the nomination

WASHINGTON — As 2020 candidates prepare for the South Carolina Democratic primary Saturday, the focus is on black voters, a growing base for the party in the Palmetto State and a key voting bloc for eventual party nominees in past elections. The demographic makes up about two-thirds of the state's Democratic electorate. 

Every Democratic winner in South Carolina’s primary since 1992 has ultimately become the party’s nominee except for John Edwards. Though Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders leads the 2020 field in delegates after first and second place finishes in multiple early states, he'll likely need to overcome his past challenges in South Carolina to clear his path to the nomination.

Bernie Sanders speaks at the South Carolina Democratic Party "First in the South" dinner on Feb. 24, 2020 in Charleston, S.C.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

His 2016 primary finish was disappointing in South Carolina, especially among black voters. Hillary Clinton carried 74 percent of the state with Sanders trailing nearly 50 percentage points behind her, according to exit polls.

The racial breakdown between the two candidates’ supporters in the state was starkly different. Among Clinton voters in the primary, 71 percent identified as black while 64 percent of Sanders’ backers identified as white.

2008 primary exit polls show that Barack Obama won over about double the vote share of Clinton, including 80 percent of the black vote but less than one-fourth of white voters in the Palmetto State. 

General election exit polls from 2004 show that blacks only made up about 30 percent of voters but with a vast majority — 85 percent — supporting John Kerry.

Going into tonight’s debate in South Carolina, Joe Biden leads among likely Democratic voters and African-Americans in the state in the latest NBC News/Marist poll out Monday. This comes despite his weak performances in the early states thus far.

Sanders only trails Biden by 4 points — 23 to 27 percent support respectively — with likely Democratic voters in South Carolina. In the black subset of this group, the senator is 15 points behind Biden with only 20 percent support.

Billionaire entrepreneur Tom Steyer comes in a close third with 19 percent from black voters.

The poll was conducted before the Nevada caucuses, a heavily diverse state that Sanders won by more than a two-to-one margin. 

The seven candidates on the ballot and still in the race will compete for 54 pledged delegates to the National Democratic Convention, the greatest number of delegates up for grabs in the campaign cycle so far. Mike Bloomberg will not be on the ballot and South Carolina cancelled its Republican primary.