Biden will win South Carolina Democratic primary, earning his first delegates of 2024, CNN projects

South Carolina, the state that launched Joe Biden to the Democratic nomination four years ago, will deliver the president his first official primary victory of the 2024 campaign on Saturday, CNN projects.

In a result that was largely expected, Biden will defeat his two nearest challengers, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson, as he claims his first delegates in his quest to win his party’s nomination again. Biden won all 55 delegates at stake in the South Carolina primary.

This year marks the first time South Carolina has appeared at the front of the official Democratic nominating calendar — a change made largely due to Biden’s urging.

Biden, who was in Los Angeles for a fundraising event Saturday evening when his win was projected, said in a statement that South Carolina put him on a path toward victory.

“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,” he said. “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.”

DNC elevates South Carolina over Iowa and New Hampshire

For decades, Iowa and New Hampshire had cast the first votes in Democratic presidential primary battles. But the Democratic National Committee decided to move those states back in the calendar in the face of criticism that their largely White electorates didn’t reflect a Democratic base that is much more diverse nationally.

Iowa Democratic officials accepted the changes, opting to hold a mail-in caucus with ballots sent to voters starting January 12 and due to be postmarked back by March 5 — Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen other states are scheduled to hold their primaries.

New Hampshire officials, citing a state law requiring that its primary be the nation’s first, pushed back — holding a rogue Democratic contest alongside the Republican primary on January 23.

However, the Democratic National Committee punished the Granite State by stripping it of delegates to the party’s 2024 convention. Because the state did not comply with the calendar the DNC had set, Biden didn’t file to appear on the state’s primary ballot. But loyalists of the president launched a successful write-in campaign on his behalf that saw him take 64% of the vote.

The state that propelled Biden’s 2020 win

To cement South Carolina’s status as the first primary of the 2024 Democratic race, Biden visited the Palmetto State twice last month, and Vice President Kamala Harris headlined a get-out-the-vote event at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg on Friday.

“You’ve had my back, and I hope I’ve had yours,” Biden told the Sunday lunch crowd at Brookland Baptist Church in Columbia last weekend.

The president wasn’t in South Carolina on Saturday, as he headed for a fundraising swing through Southern California and Nevada. Before his departure, he made a stop at his reelection campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, giving brief remarks with an eye toward the general election.

“This is not just a campaign. This is more of a mission. We cannot, we cannot, we cannot lose this campaign, for the good of the country,” Biden said.

“I mean that from the bottom of my heart. It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the country. And I think everybody knows it and I think it’s beginning to dawn on people.”

“The American people get it. They understand what’s going on,” Biden said, framing the contest around the protection of democracy.

Attendees cheer as Biden speaks at a South Carolina Democratic Party event in Columbia on January 27, 2024. - Kent Nishimura/AFP/Getty Images
Attendees cheer as Biden speaks at a South Carolina Democratic Party event in Columbia on January 27, 2024. - Kent Nishimura/AFP/Getty Images

With Biden facing little serious competition for the Democratic nomination, Saturday’s primary was important for the president nonetheless because it marked a return to the place that catapulted him to the Democratic nomination in 2020.

Biden limped into the South Carolina primary that year after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, fourth in the New Hampshire primary and a distant second in the Nevada caucuses. However, the Palmetto State’s large Black population — and a late endorsement from influential Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn — helped deliver Biden a dominant victory that, for the first time, demonstrated strength with a core Democratic constituency that no other primary contender could rival.

Days later, Biden moved closer to clinching the party’s nomination by racking up a virtually insurmountable delegate lead across a wide swath of diverse states on Super Tuesday.

South Carolina is dominated by Republicans in general elections. The last Democratic presidential nominee to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

But the push by the Biden campaign and its allies in South Carolina was part of a broader effort to shore up support with Black voters, a bloc crucial to the president’s reelection prospects, particularly in battleground states such as Georgia and the “blue wall” states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The Democratic primary took place three weeks before Republicans will vote on February 24. The GOP primary could be former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s last chance to slow former President Donald Trump’s march to a third consecutive Republican presidential nomination. But a recent Monmouth University-Washington Post poll showed her trailing Trump by 26 points in her home-state primary.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Betsy Klein, Kevin Liptak, Terence Burlij and Ethan Cohen contributed to this report.

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