Not even five days ago, former Vice President Joe Biden’s bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination seemed as if it had hit a snag, following a string of disappointing performances throughout February.
In the Iowa caucuses, Biden came in fourth place. The New Hampshire primary struck yet another blow to his campaign — fifth place. In the Nevada caucuses, Biden landed a distant second place behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’d recently wrested the status of frontrunner from Biden.
But then there was the South Carolina primary — the beginning of Biden’s bounceback.
Propelled by the coveted endorsement of the Palmetto State’s Jim Clyburn — a kingmaker and the highest-ranking black American in Congress — as well as by the state’s majority-black Democratic electorate, Biden trounced Sanders by nearly 30 points.
Clyburn reacted to Biden’s super Super Tuesday by reiterating his endorsement and the importance of Democrats rallying around the former vice president.
“I feel that this country’s democracy is at stake. I’ve said time and time again, no matter what we may do to provide health care, affordable housing, educational opportunities, economic opportunities, none of that matters if we do not have a stable, flourishing democracy. And that’s what I was trying to do because I do believe in Joe Biden,” Clyburn said of his endorsement.
On Super Tuesday, Biden saw a similar sweep across the South. Black voters made up about a quarter of the electorate in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, more than 4-in-10 voters in Alabama, and 2-in-10 in Texas — all states the former vice president won. (Biden also grabbed victories in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Massachusetts.)
Another way to look at all this: In the span of just 72 hours, between the South Carolina primary on Saturday and Super Tuesday, black voters in the South shaped the Democratic race in a manner that the Iowa and New Hampshire contests didn’t — couldn’t.
That’s due, in large part, to demographics. Iowa and New Hampshire are overwhelmingly white — about 90% — which doesn’t reflect the Democratic Party’s base that’s some 40% nonwhite. In consequence, two unrepresentative states receive lots of attention as the general election approaches in earnest, and voters there prop up candidates that appeal largely to them.
This narrative-setting is at odds with the fact that, without the backing of voters of color — particularly black voters — a candidate has almost no path in the Democratic Party. (Ask former Sou