Biden is in South Carolina for one of his first appearances in his 2024 presidential campaign
Four years ago, South Carolina Democrats — and black Democrats in particular — effectively cleared the field for the president Joe Bidennomination, ending what could have been a tumultuous primary campaign for the right to confront Donald Trump.
At a Democratic Party dinner on Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina, celebrating South Carolina’s new status as the first Democratic primary state, Biden came back to thank them for it, one week before voters head to the polls.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Democratic voters in South Carolina, and that’s a fact,” he said. “You’re the reason I’m president. You’re the reason Donald Trump is a defeated ex-president. You’re the reason Donald Trump is a loser. And you’re the reason we’ll win and beat him again.”
The Democratic National Committee changed its bylaws at Biden’s request last year to designate the South Carolina primary as the party’s first nominating contest, angering Iowa and New Hampshire. The failed 2020 Iowa caucuses contributed to the change, but party leaders argued that South Carolina voters better reflect the country’s racial and economic diversity. Biden clearly wanted to reward his supporters in South Carolina.
Related: A rematch between Trump and Biden is increasingly inevitable after the New Hampshire primary
Biden specifically praised Rep. James Clyburn, South Carolina’s only Democratic congressman, who has long been a kingmaker in South Carolina politics.
“Jim is the reason I am president,” Biden said.
Clyburn introduced Biden, quoting Alexis de Tocqueville and citing America’s historical ability to “repair its mistakes” as evidence of its greatness. Clyburn also read a litany of the Biden administration’s accomplishments — on the vaccine rollout, the infrastructure bill, student loan forgiveness, the CHIP law — as a response to “Russian bots” on social media challenging those accomplishments.
“If you come down I-26 today where it intersects with 126, you will see it for the first time in decades,” Clyburn said. “What do we call that? The broken down intersection is being fixed for the first time in decades. If you drive from Columbia on I-26 to Orangeburg… you’ll see that those four lanes, congested for years, will soon become six lanes. Why? Structure Bill Infrastructure for Joe Biden.”
Biden also touted his economic record, with 14 million jobs created so far, billions in student loan relief, and capping the consumer price of insulin. He pointedly pointed to the political and economic gains made by black voters, including a record number of black women appointed to the federal judiciary, more black Americans with health insurance and “the lowest levels of black unemployment recorded in history,” he said. “The racial wealth gap is at its lowest level in 20 years.”
The president’s speech was also sharply partisan, as expected in one of his first actual engagements in the 2024 campaign.
“Two months ago, my team began working with a bipartisan group of senators to create the toughest, smartest, and fairest border security goal in history, the best the country has ever seen,” Biden said. He added that the bill would fund 1,300 additional Border Patrol agents, 375 immigration judges, 1,600 asylum officers and 100 drug detection machines to stop fentanyl smuggling across the southwest border.
The law also gives the president legal authority to declare a state of emergency and close borders.
“If the bill became law today, I would close the border now and fix it quickly,” Biden said.
Attendees expressed support for Biden’s position on the border, and questioned the Republican move.
“Republicans will not pass this border bill,” said Barbara Cameron, an Orangeburg County political activist. “They’re the ones making all the noise about the border, but they don’t actually want to pass the border bill.”
Biden likened Trump to Herbert Hoover, one of two presidents who left office with fewer jobs at the end of his term than at the beginning. He also challenged Trump’s decency and brought back the former president’s tactics.
“Have you noticed he’s a little confused these days? He can’t seem to tell the difference between Hillary Clinton and Nikki Haley.”
Biden’s speech was interrupted three times by protesters — twice by pro-Palestinian activists and once by a climate activist. Everyone was quickly expelled.
Although the stakes for the November election are high, the stakes for the South Carolina Democratic primary are much lower.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who is also running a long-running campaign for president, acknowledged as much while addressing the crowd before Biden’s speech, acknowledging that 95% of the crowd was voting for Biden. “If you’re going to have a primary that’s the first of its kind in the nation, you need to have two people on the ballot,” he said. He stopped telling a story about a difficult moment in his father’s life as the background chatter increased.
“Can I have your attention for just a minute? We’re all Democrats here,” he said, begging for some silence.
The political headwinds Biden faces have less to do with partisan challenges and more to do with public negative sentiment toward his administration, as expressed in opinion polls. Not that this matters to supporters of Democratic politics in South Carolina.
“I don’t care about ratings and polls,” said Charlene Smith, a retiree from Columbia. “Look at what he has achieved. If you look at the list of achievements, you will see how much we have improved. It is right there in front of everyone’s face, if they open their eyes and read it.