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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

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.

'The black man's country club': To understand black voters, look to their barbershops

Barber Anderson J. Washington with veteran Charles Peaks at CJ's Barbershop.Sean Rayford / for NBC News

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."

Read more here.

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.

Read more here.

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."

Read more here.

The scene in North Charleston

Voters check-in with poll workers at a polling station located at Mary Ford Elementary School during the primary election in North Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Joshua Lott / AFP - Getty Images

 

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."

Mayo is among the many black voters in South Carolina who — citing Buttigieg's mixed record on race when he was a mayor in Indiana — say they just can't fathom backing him.

Buttigieg's struggles to win over African American voters have long been in the spotlight.

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.

Read more here.

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. 

Read more here.

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.

Here’s everything you need to know about the South Carolina primary.