This story was co-published with The Washington Post.
In the wake of Joe Biden’s fourth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses, his campaign Wednesday announced the backing of more than 100 South Carolina women as a signal of the former vice president’s strong support in the state.
According to the campaign, the diverse coalition — which includes former and current elected officials and candidates, and other prominent women from around the state — will focus on voter turnout in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 29 primary election. Some of those listed have previously endorsed Biden, but the show of force is meant to send a signal of his strength heading into the Palmetto State contest.
“From authoring and spearheading the Violence Against Women Act to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Obama to pass the Affordable Care Act, Joe Biden has an unmatched record of turning bold, progressive policies into tangible results for women,” the campaign said in a statement provided to the 19th News.
Among those spearheading the group is Bernice Scott, founder of the “Reckoning Crew,” the powerhouse grass-roots organizing apparatus that was supporting Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) before she exited the race in December. Scott spoke to voters Wednesday morning while running errands, before meeting for three hours to strategize with volunteers.
“We are the ones who know exactly what’s going on in these communities,” Scott, who had already endorsed Biden, said of Black women in particular. “It’s important that we carry the message for our country. This is going to make a difference, women talking to women about the election and how important it is for everybody.”
Biden’s central electability argument is that he is the candidate best positioned to beat President Trump in November, but first he would have to win the Democratic nomination. With most of Iowa’s returns in, he trails former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). He also lags Sanders in a Washington Post average of New Hampshire polls.
New Hampshire’s primary is Tuesday. Nevada holds its caucuses Feb. 22, before South Carolina’s primary Feb. 29. In The Post’s average, Biden has a lead in South Carolina polling, with 38 percent, compared with 13 percent each for Sanders and Warren.
Democratic strategist Bakari Sellers said neither Iowa nor New Hampshire reflects the Democratic base — including Black women, the backbone of the party. Because Biden’s support remains strong with this key constituency, he remains in the strongest position heading into South Carolina and Super Tuesday three days later, Sellers argued.
“His campaign is about rebuilding the Obama coalition necessary to get elected,” said Sellers, referring to the electorate that swept the first Black president into office in 2008. “That coalition is not found until you get to South Carolina.”
For months, South Carolina has looked to be the former vice president’s firewall — a result of the strong Black support he has maintained in the state. Black voters nationally have also backed Biden in the polls, which could be a predictor of how he performs in diverse Super Tuesday states on the heels of South Carolina’s primary.
Marguerite Willis, who ran for South Carolina governor in 2018 and is married to Frank Willis, the former mayor of Florence, S.C., is a former Harris campaign co-chair who threw her support behind Biden last month after joining him at a Black church in Columbia during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Willis said she was convinced after seeing the congregation’s reaction to Biden.
“There was a genuine affection that you could feel,” said Willis. “I think you’re going to see that in the results here. That may make us an aberration. … We won’t know that until after Super Tuesday.”
Willis said South Carolina voters aren’t likely to be deterred by Biden’s showing in Iowa, because “we sort of view ourselves as the first real primary, where there are going to be a lot of different interests represented.”
“It’s a big country, and what’s going on in Iowa may not be as relevant to South Carolina as what’s going on here,” she said.
Democratic strategist Jalisa Washington-Price, who most recently worked as a Harris campaign staffer in South Carolina, said the list represents not just endorsements in name, but women who will be boots on the ground for Biden in the run-up to the primary. Because they were already familiar with Biden before Iowa, she said, the caucuses weren’t the same kind of voter litmus test for the former vice president that they were for Barack Obama in 2008.
“What happened on Tuesday showed that anything can happen in this cycle,” she said. “He’s spent a lot of time in the state. Black voters want to go with the candidate they feel can win, and who they know.”
South Carolina will be the first real test of Biden’s strength, said Democratic strategist Jarrod Loadholt.
“It’s always been Joe Biden’s race to lose,” Loadholt said of the South Carolina primary. “The challenge for him is ground game. It’s about margins. Are they going to flood the zone? When actual people of color go to vote, you’ll see Joe Biden’s strength. It’s how much do you win by, and it’s not going to be close.”