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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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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.

'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.