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
- Biden wins the South Carolina primary, while Sanders finishes second, NBC News projects.
- Billionaire Tom Steyer quits the Democratic primary race.
- 'You cannot win ‘em all': Sanders downplays loss in South Carolina.
- Buttigieg: Campaign pressing onto Super Tuesday despite South Carolina result.
- Warren campaign memo: 'We're in this race for the long haul.'
Download the NBC News app for full coverage and alerts on the latest news.
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.
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.
'The black man's country club': To understand black voters, look to their barbershops
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Lucciono's barbershop owner ReCarlo Lewis is arguing with one of his barbers about the Democratic presidential candidates while the two men cut clients.
Lewis, 36, thinks the field is too weak and no one will beat President Donald Trump. The barber Eldred Anderson, 35, agrees but is leaning toward supporting billionaire businessman Tom Steyer in Saturday's First in the South primary.
"I kinda like some of the stuff he’s talking about," Anderson said. "But he won’t be as strong against Trump."
"To me, it’s not really a strong, strong, Democratic candidate — somebody that you feel can beat Trump," Lewis said. "You know how Trump operates, he uses guerrilla tactics. Trump has a personality that none of them have."
Anderson said he didn’t vote in 2016 because he didn’t like Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and he may not vote this year either. He said if candidates spent more time in shops like this one, maybe he would vote.
"The barbershop plays a big role in the black community — from clothes, style, sports, politics. Maybe they should try to get more in tune with barbershops to understand what we care about," he said. "I want to hear less about who they are and more about the issues."
In the South Carolina primary, Clyburn endorsements carry political weight
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Jennifer Clyburn Reed, the middle daughter of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, has become a one-woman welcoming committee for ambitious Democrats in South Carolina.
She visited a historic marketplace with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and small businesses owned by black women with Sen. Kamala Harris, set up informal meet and greets with voters and attended campaign events for each of the 12 different Democratic presidential candidates when they visited the state. Three campaigns asked outright for her endorsement.
Clyburn Reed’s father, after all, is the senior ranking black American in Congress.
James Clyburn, a Democrat who joined Congress in 1993, has endorsed three presidential candidates since that time: John Kerry in 2004, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and, now, Joe Biden.
The potential influence he and his family wield in South Carolina is apparent to anyone in the state with a television set. Clyburn Reed’s son Walter Clyburn Reed has appeared in a Pete Buttigieg campaign ad, where Clyburn Reed describes his grandfather as his hero.
What exactly is Tom Steyer planning to do?
CHARLESTON, S.C. — As Democrats begin to lose patience with the size of their 2020 presidential primary field, one candidate could be poised to seize attention with an unexpected finish Saturday.
Tom Steyer, the California activist billionaire who has largely been a nonfactor in the primary campaign so far, is on track to finish in the top three in South Carolina's contest, according to recent polls, potentially depriving former Vice President Joe Biden of the strong finish he needs to reclaim momentum.
Many Democrats eyeing the general election are eager for underperforming candidates to get out of the way, but few have provoked more annoyance than Steyer, who has invested particularly heavily in South Carolina, with a focus on racial justice and climate issues.
"A lot of Democrats feel as though it's time for Steyer to get out," longtime Democratic operative Karen Finney said. "There's a real frustration that his money could be spent helping us win because it's pretty obvious to most people that there's just not a path for him. And Democrats are becoming increasingly anxious that it's time to start coalescing."
But despite being one of the Democratic Party's single biggest donors in recent elections, Steyer has a long history of going his own way. For instance, he spent millions pushing for President Donald Trump's impeachment over the vocal objections of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In an interview with NBC News on Wednesday, Steyer said he doesn't much care what "the Democratic establishment" thinks about his strategy and called the idea that he's a spoiler for Biden "a crazy statement."
The scene in North Charleston
Buttigieg issues with black voters magnified in South Carolina
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Georgette Mayo, who is African American, doesn't like Pete Buttigieg.
"I don't trust him," said Mayo, an archivist at the College of Charleston, who has narrowed her choices in Saturday's Democratic primary to Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren.
"In regards to him as mayor in South Bend, and the friction that there was with the police chief — he just hasn't made up for that," she said. "To me, he's just not even a consideration."
He's defended policy decisions he made as mayor that were not well received by the city's black community, and he’s faced blowback in confronting race relations and policing there.
Buttigieg's challenge in tackling race issues, however, are especially pertinent in South Carolina, where black voters make up a majority of the Democratic electorate and where every winner of the state's Democratic primary since 1992 (except for John Edwards in 2004) has gone on to win the party's nomination.
On the South Carolina airwaves: Negative ads and appeals to black voters
WASHINGTON — With just one day to go until South Carolina's pivotal Democratic presidential primary, the Palmetto State's ad wars are heating up.
Philanthropist and billionaire Tom Steyer has blanketed the state to the tune of $20 million in television and radio ads in South Carolina this cycle, according to Advertising Analytics. That's more than the rest of the Democratic field combined.
Far behind him, but ahead of the rest of the pack, is former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has spent $2.4 million. (While former Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn't on the ballot in South Carolina, he's running $2 million in ads in adjacent states that bleed onto the airwaves in South Carolina.)
Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign has spent $700,000; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has spent $690,000; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has spent $580,000; Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has spent $500,000; and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has spent $470,000.
And Super PACs supporting Klobuchar, Warren and Biden have spent $980,000, $590,000 and $110,000 respectively.
Everything you need to know about South Carolina's primary
The 2020 primary race is heading to South Carolina for the nation's First in the South nominating contest.
The South Carolina primary tests candidates' strength with black voters, who made up nearly two-thirds of the Democratic primary electorate in 2016.
The state also boasts a nearly-perfect track record; since Democrats in the state first used a primary in 1992, every winner except for one has gone on to win the Democratic nomination. The exception: Neighboring-state favorite John Edwards, who won South Carolina but ultimately lost the nod to John Kerry.
5 things to watch in the South Carolina primary: A moment of truth for Joe Biden
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Democratic primary here on Saturday will determine whether Joe Biden’s campaign is alive and kicking, or whether another candidate can lay claim to being the strongest challenger to national front-runner Bernie Sanders.
South Carolina is the first majority-black primary electorate on the calendar — about 60 percent in 2016 — and the winner in four out of the last five contests since 1992 has gone on to capture the party’s nomination (the exception, John Edwards of neighboring North Carolina in 2004, ended up as the vice presidential pick.)
The primary comes three days before the immensely important "Super Tuesday" contests, and Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar are all jockeying for position.