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Joe Biden wins South Carolina, hoping for Super Tuesday momentum

The former Vice President had staked his campaign on winning the first Southern state to vote in the Democratic race to challenge Trump.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Joe Biden has scored a resounding victory in South Carolina’s Democratic primary. The former vice president rode a wave of African-American support on Saturday that ended Bernie Sanders’ winning streak and offered badly needed momentum for Biden's unsettled White House bid. 

The top finish came in a do-or-die election that followed three underwhelming performances. South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary marked the first major test of the candidates' appeal among black voters.

Biden has for weeks looked to the black voters of South Carolina to hand a win to his flagging campaign. On Saturday, they delivered. He won about 60% of the votes cast by non-white voters, dominating a crowded Democratic field among a group that made up more than half of the electorate. 

He also performed strongly with older voter and self-described moderates. That's according to AP VoteCast, a wide-ranging survey of more than 1,400 voters in South Carolina's Democratic primary. 

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Biden said the "bigger the win, the bigger the bump," as he looked for victory ahead of the primary. The former vice president had insisted he doesn't have to win by a particular margin if he hopes to catch early delegate leader Sanders, as he visited a polling site in Greenville, South Carolina.

Biden said of the crowded Democratic field, "I don’t think it’ll even be over after Super Tuesday," talking about the 15 contests looming next week. "I think it’s going to go on to states that are ones that I feel very good about.” 

Biden was confident that his popularity with black voters would seal his victory. He's always called South Carolina his "firewall," which he thinks can help blunt some of Sanders' momentum.

Many of the remaining Democrats competing for their party's nomination have spent the past few months spread out across the early-voting states. Tom Steyer, who ended his campaign after the results Saturday, however, had a fairly singular focus on South Carolina. As voting approached, there was concern that Steyer could be a spoiler.

RELATED: Billionaire Tom Steyer ends Democratic presidential campaign

RELATED: Biden: 'we are very much alive' after blowout win in South Carolina Democratic primary

Polls were open in South Carolina from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET on Saturday. The following candidates were on the state's Democratic primary ballot:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg
  • Congresswoman from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard 
  • Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar
  • Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders 
  • Billionaire former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer
  • Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren

Former mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg was not on the South Carolina ballot. He will appear on a ballot for the first time on "Super Tuesday," March 3.

The primary stands as the first marker on a critical four-day stretch that will help determine whether the party rallies behind Sanders or embraces a longer and uglier battle that could carry on until the national convention.

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RELATED: President Trump takes shots at Democrats, defends coronavirus response in SC rally

In order to win on the first ballot at the convention, a Democratic candidate would need 1,991 delegates. In South Carolina, there's 54 pledged delegates up for grabs. Sanders believes he's positioned to seize a major delegate advantage when 14 states and one U.S. territory vote on “Super Tuesday.”

President Trump tweeted about Biden's win the primary, calling it “the end of Mini Mike Bloomberg’s Joke of a campaign” and charging that Bloomberg had Biden “split up his very few voters.” Trump’s comments echo those of some Democrats who say Bloomberg should drop out and allow Biden to consolidate moderate voters in order to keep the nomination away from Sanders.

Trump held a rally on Friday in South Carolina ahead of the primary, even though there wasn't a Republican 2020 presidential primary in the state.

The rally crowd relished Trump's asking them to participate in the poll. More in the crowd shouted “Bernie!” and booed the mention of Biden than the other way around.

Trump agreed, saying, “I think Bernie's easier to beat.”

Some state GOP leaders had urged Republican voters to participate in Saturday's Democratic primary and vote for Sanders.

Credit: AP
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at Saint Augustine's University in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)