South Carolina primary live updates: NBC projects Biden wins

Bernie Sanders finished second in the primary, according to an NBC News projection.
Image: Voters will go to the polls in the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.
Voters will go to the polls in the South Carolina Democratic primary on Sat., Feb. 29, 2020.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

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NBC News projects former Vice President Joe Biden has won the South Carolina primary with heavy support from black and moderate voters.

Saturday's first-in-the-South primary could be a pivotal moment for many of the candidates, especially Biden, who is counting on his projected landslide win here to reinvigorate his candidacy ahead of Super Tuesday.

Also on the ballot were Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg was not in the running as he decided to skip the first four nominating contests.

Highlights from the South Carolina primary

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Live Blog

Democrats in Trump districts cast a nervous eye at a surging Sanders

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Few people sound more excited about the prospect of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., winning the Democratic nomination than South Carolina Republicans.

"It's the best-case scenario," said Republican state Rep. Nancy Mace, who is running for her party's nomination to challenge freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham. "Really, it's the best-case scenario for any Republican on the ballot."

South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, which covers over 100 miles of coast from north of Charleston down to Hilton Head Island, has long been a Republican stronghold. The district voted for Donald Trump by more than 13 points in 2016 and for Mitt Romney by more than 18 points in 2012.

Cunningham, 37, a former ocean engineer and Charleston-based lawyer, won the district by a slim 1.4 percentage points in 2018, becoming the first Democrat to represent the area since the 1970s.

Sanders' rise has many Democrats here worried that Cunningham's seat — the object of one of the most competitive House races in the country — would be even more vulnerable if a democratic socialist were at the top of the party's ticket in November. In conversations with down-ballot Democratic candidates and strategists here, many said they were crossing their fingers in hope that Sanders' momentum would come to a halt in South Carolina's primary this weekend.

Read more here.

NBC News Exit Poll: Democrats prioritize beating Trump over ideological purity

Slightly more than half of South Carolina Democrats said they prioritize beating Trump over a candidate who agrees with them on issues, early results from the NBC News Exit Poll of primary voters show.

South Carolina Democrats aren’t quite as focused on victory in November as their counterparts in the other 2020 contests held so far: In Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, more than six in 10 voters said they’re rather see a nominee who can beat Trump.

NBC News Exit Poll: South Carolina first early state contest with strong presence of African American voters

Today’s South Carolina Democratic primary features an electorate that differs sharply in many ways from the previous three early voting states in the 2020 race, early results from the NBC Exit Poll show.

More than half of those voting in South Carolina identify as African American, a share dramatically higher than in the Iowa, New Hampshire or Nevada 2020 Democratic contests. Just half of voters consider themselves to be liberal; in all previous states liberals made up at least six in 10 voters. And just four in 10 South Carolina voters today hold a college degree. By contrast, college graduates were the majority of electorates in the first three contests.

NAACP president: To us, SC is beginning of primary season

Warren defends super PAC support in front of supporters

Warren on Saturday defended taking donations from a super PAC that formed ahead of the Nevada caucuses to give her campaign a boost.

The Massachusetts senator had previously criticized the use of political action committees and promised not to use them, but as her opponents continue to benefit from their own PACs, she explained that she had changed her mind.

"There's a super PAC now that's come in for me, and I get it, there are people who want to try to get women elected," Warren said at the rally in Little Rock, Arkansas, the first time she addressed the issue at such a venue. "They feel really frustrated that they haven't had an opportunity to do that. But my view on this is, we could keep super PACs out of this, but it takes everybody following the same set of rules. So as soon as everybody's ready, I'll lead the charge and we'll keep the super PACs out because I think that's the right way to do it."

The organization, Persist PAC, announced previously that it's spending $9 million in television and digital ads in multiple Super Tuesday states on Warren's behalf. 

South Carolina voters with no insurance, deep medical debt swayed by health care

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — After years of hard work, Ashley Myers finally realized her dream of owning a women’s fashion store and a beauty shop directly across the street from each other in this small, predominantly black city. But as the costs of her health care plan rose a year ago, she could only keep one storefront open.

Today, as the owner and the sole employee of the combined beauty shop and fashion store, she pays $800 a month for her insurance premiums, but she said it really only helps in dire circumstances. Otherwise, she pays so much out of pocket that she feels only as well off as her uninsured brother — he only sees a doctor in the emergency room, where he racks up huge medical bills.

“I try to be smart about when I go to the doctor and make sure I have the money or else they take it away from my business,” Myers, 35, said.

For many in this city of 13,000, health care and insurance are foremost ahead of Saturday’s Democratic primary, when South Carolina voters will likely weigh the medical plans proposed by the different presidential candidates. The most radical idea of "Medicare for All" is beginning to appeal to some like Myers, who are worried about their own pocketbooks or concerned for family and friends who don't have insurance.

Read more here.

South Carolina Democratic Party anticipating high turnout

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said Saturday afternoon that just under 80,000 absentee ballots were sent in for the Democratic presidential primary, outpacing both the 2016 and 2018 elections. 

“In the past, absentee balloting has always been an indicator, an early indicator of what turnout is going to be in South Carolina,” Robertson said. 

SCDP executive director Jay Parmley added that the party could see voter turnout approach 2008 numbers — the highest numbers seen in a primary in the state. 

“If we get anywhere near that half million mark, there will have been more votes cast here today than cast in the previous three contests,” Parmley said. 

Of votes cast in South Carolina, Robertson anticipates non-white voters could make up more than half of the electorate. 

“We anticipate that the significant number of non-white voters will make up anywhere from 55 to 62, 63 percent of the electorate,” Robertson said. 

But primary day hasn’t been without some minor issues. Robertson and Parmley confirmed some confusion over the fact that some polling locations have been consolidated and moved in accordance to S.C. law to as a cost saving measure

“We’ve had about 132 calls to our actual system today, and primarily most of that deals with locations,” Robertson said. Parmley said that there were several consolidations made, and “two or three counties” undertook “fairly significant consolidation efforts.” 

Parmley and Robertson stressed that those issues have been “routine” and not wide-ranging.  

Who won the Democratic debate in South Carolina?

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Democrats threw everything they had at Bernie Sanders, and if the 10th debate here didn't slow his march to the nomination it's not clear anything will.

Mike Bloomberg told him Russia wants him to be the nominee so he can lose to President Donald Trump. Elizabeth Warren said she'd be a better president than him and took him to task for supporting the Senate filibuster. Joe Biden went after him for voting against gun control and floating a primary challenge against President Barack Obama in 2012. Pete Buttigieg said House Democrats are fleeing his agenda. Amy Klobuchar argued she was the most anti-Sanders candidate on the stage.

At one point, Sanders offered a knowing grin.

"I'm hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why?" the front-runner quipped.

Here's how the candidates performed in a debate that repeatedly descended into yelling matches rife with interruptions that captured the tension of the larger contest.

Read more here.

South Carolina is big test for new style of voting system sweeping the nation

South Carolina is the first statewide presidential election primary to be run completely on a new expensive breed of hybrid voting system that's been massively marketed by the nation’s top election system vendors but also criticized by some election integrity advocates.

Last June, the state announced that market leader Election Systems and Software had won a $51 million contract to replace the state’s aging and sometimes glitchy equipment, which didn’t produce an auditable paper trail, with a new system that combines touchscreen vote casting with a printed paper ballot.

This year, nearly all states will rely on this style of device, which voting system vendors have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying local officials to purchase. 

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station for the South Carolina primary in Indian Land, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Proponents of the systems say the devices offer a “familiar” touchscreen similar to what voters have been used to using, but which eliminate issues like stray marks and other voter errors and are accessible to all voters, including those with disabilities. Addressing concerns about hacking or malfunctions that arose after 2016 Russian interference, it also produces a paper trail that can be audited or hand-counted. 

But election integrity advocates note that the paper ballot produced by the machine embeds the voter's choice in a barcode. While the device prints the selection in plain text below the barcode, the voter can’t tell if the barcode and the text match. The machines are several times more expensive than the most widely used method and the one endorsed by most election security experts: hand-marked paper ballots.

Vendors argue that there is no difference between the mapping of a barcode and the mapping of oval positions on a hand-marked ballot to voter selections. The state Election Commission says the machines are tested before voting and the results will be audited. Scanned images will be made available to anyone who wants to count the ballots and verify results. South Carolina election officials say the new machines have been tested in more than 200 local elections, and they’re confident the devices are ready for their primary debut.