US President Joe Biden won the South Carolina Democratic primary, the first officially sanctioned race of the party’s nominating season, with returns showing him swamping two other candidates, according to Edison Research.
While Mr Biden, 81, faced little opposition, the vote was being closely watched amid concerns about his popularity, especially among black voters.
With 93.3% of precincts reporting, Mr Biden had won 116,266 votes, or 96.4% out of 120,643 votes cast, way ahead of his two main challengers, US Representative Dean Phillips and best-selling self-help author Marianne Williamson.
However, turnout failed to exceed expectations. Democratic officials had expected somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 total votes, following a county-by-county tour of the southern state aimed at exciting voters and multiple events featuring Mr Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris.
In a victory statement, the Biden campaign said: “In 2020, it was the voters of South Carolina who proved the pundits wrong, breathed new life into our campaign, and set us on the path to winning the presidency.
“Now in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the presidency again and making Donald Trump a loser , again,” the campaign said in a statement.
Four years ago, it was South Carolina’s black vote in the state’s primary that helped ignite Mr Biden’s campaign and ultimately propel him to the White House.
Shortly before the polls in South Carolina closed, Mr Biden arrived in Los Angeles, where he was expected to meet with black entertainers.
Mr Biden, an unpopular incumbent who faces little competition for his party’s nomination in subsequent state primaries leading up to the 5 November US election, was on track for an overwhelming victory in South Carolina.
Besides campaign fears that South Carolina’s heavily black electorate might not be energized this time around, there were also doubts about his age and concerns about high consumer prices and security along the US-Mexican border.
Former President Donald Trump, 77, is the frontrunner for the republican nomination to challenge Biden in the general election
South Carolina has not backed a democrat for president in the general election since 1976. But because black people make up more than half of the democratic electorate in South Carolina, it presented an important test of Mr Biden’s appeal with a voting base that typically supports democrats nine-to-one in presidential races.
Echoes of 2020
Although there are dozens of nominating contests ahead, Mr Biden has already moved into general-election mode, attacking Mr Trump in a series of speeches.
“There’s a lot at stake here, folks,” Mr Biden told campaign staff in Wilmington, Delaware yesterday.
Mr Trump is heavily favored to win his party’s nomination after triumphing in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two republican contests in the state-by-state battle.
South Carolina plays host to the next major republican presidential nominating battle, on 24 February.
The US president reordered the democratic calendar to make South Carolina the first nominating contest, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire, in a move that simultaneously increased the voice of black voters and all but shut out any potential competition for the nomination.
In 2020, Mr Biden garnered 49% of the 539,263 votes cast in South Carolina’s seven-person Democratic primary race.
Democrats in the state had accurately predicted he would capture a larger share of a smaller electorate this time against US Representative Phillips and self-help author Williamson.
In New Hampshire, where Mr Biden was not on the ballot last month, he captured 64% of the primary vote thanks to a write-in campaign.
In a recent speech to state democrats, Mr Phillips said he expected 95% of the state will go for Mr Biden in the primary. However, Mr Phillips said he still has a role to play.
“If you want to have a first-in-the-nation primary, you need at least two candidates on the ballot, and I’m happy to be that other guy,” the congressman said.