COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — President Joe Biden is looking for an easy win in South Carolina's Democratic primary that officially kicks off his party's nominating process on Saturday, validating a new lineup he championed to better empower Black voters who helped revive his once-foundering 2020 campaign.
Biden is overwhelmingly favored against Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and self-help author Marianne Williamson. Yet the long and sometimes contentious process that saw the Democratic National Committee officially replace Iowa with South Carolina in its presidential primary's leadoff spot has made what's unfolding noteworthy.
The GOP's South Carolina primary won't be held until Feb. 24.
Arguing that voters of color should play a larger role in determining the Democratic presidential nominee, Biden championed a calendar beginning in South Carolina. The state is reliably Republican, but 26% of its residents are Black.
"South Carolina, you are the first primary in the nation and President Biden and I are counting on you," Harris said Friday during a campaign stop at historically Black South Carolina State in Orangeburg, after the president and first lady Jill Biden had also recently campaigned in the state.
In the 2020 general election, Black voters made up 11% of the national electorate, and 9 in 10 of them supported Biden, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of that election's voters.
Biden pushed for South Carolina to go first followed three days later by Nevada. The new calendar also moves the Democratic primary of Michigan, a large and diverse swing state, to Feb. 27, before the expansive field of states voting on March 5, known as Super Tuesday.
South Carolina was also where Biden reversed his fortunes with a resounding victory during the 2020 Democratic primary after defeats in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Many Black Democrats in South Carolina are still loyal to Biden after he was No. 2 to the nation's first Black president, Barack Obama. The state's senior congressman, Democrat Jim Clyburn, long one of Congress' most powerful Black leaders, remains a close Biden friend and ally.
"I wouldn't be here without the Democratic voters of South Carolina, and that's a fact," Biden said at the state's Democratic Party's "First-in-the-Nation" celebration dinner last weekend. "You're the reason I am president."
The DNC sponsored a six-figure ad campaign across the state and Nevada to boost enthusiasm for the president among Black and Latino voters. Nevada's population is 30% Latino.
Black voters interviewed during the recent early voting period listed a range of reasons for supporting Biden, from his administration's defense of abortion rights to appointing Black jurists and other minorities to the federal courts. Some echoed Biden's warnings that former President Donald Trump, the heavy front-runner for the Republican nomination, would threaten democracy as he continues to push lies that the 2020 vote was stolen.
"We can't live with a leader that will make this into a dictatorship. We can't live in a place that is not a democracy. That will be a fall for America," said LaJoia Broughton, a 42-year-old small business owner in Columbia. "So my vote is with Biden. It has been with Biden and will continue to be with Biden."
Some voters said they were concerned about the 81-year-old Biden's age, as many Americans have said they are in public polling. Trump is 77. Both men have had a series of public flubs that have fueled skepticism about their readiness.
"They're as old as I am and to have these two guys be the only choices, that's kind of difficult," said Charles Trower, a 77-year-old from Blythewood, South Carolina. "But I would much rather have President Biden than even consider the other guy."
New Hampshire held a primary last week that defied the new calendar and wasn't sanctioned by the DNC. Still, Biden won the state via write-in and a big South Carolina victory could begin to allay concerns of a majority of voters, as even most Democrats don't want him seeking a second term.
In the meantime, the Democratic establishment — and even potential presidential hopefuls who could have competed against the president from the left or middle — have lined up behind Biden. The DNC also isn't planning primary debates, while Phillips has challenged his name not appearing on primary ballots in Florida and North Carolina.
The president's reelection campaign says it's already focusing on November's general election, and Harris used her Friday appearance, saying of Trump "it is on us then to recognize the profound threat he poses to our democracy and to our freedoms."
"Across our nation, our fundamental freedoms are at stake," Harris said. "It does not have to be this way."
Trump has in turn accused Biden of threatening democracy, while downplaying his role in promoting falsehoods about election fraud embraced by the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Biden's campaign, the DNC and its other fundraising arms announced raising $97-plus million in the final three months of last year and entered 2024 with $117.4 million in cash on hand. Trump amassed about $130 million in 2023's final quarter and had $42-plus million to start the election year.
Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Ayanna Alexander in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.