Joe Biden’s team didn’t want to admit it, but this was make or break for his fledgling White House bid.
A run of disappointing finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada have raised questions about his electability and ceded his longtime frontrunner status to Senator Bernie Sanders.
But he won and he won big – scrambling back into contention with a resounding victory.
The former vice president’s campaign had always said South Carolina was his firewall and that African American voters would deliver for him.
They did and he insists they will also get him to the White House.
After all, no Democratic presidential candidate since Michael Dukakis in 1988 has gone on to win the nomination without winning a majority of support from black voters.
Biden had at times looked like he was spluttering to an unceremonious political end.
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On stage in Columbia he felt and looked like a different candidate – fired up, reaching out with quick, clear policy applause lines.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, his events seemed to lack energy and dynamism.
Not the time – this was as strong and as effective as I’ve seen him in the race and the crowd loved it, with many moved as he spoke about grief and thanked them for their support.
He will be hoping for a few days of comeback kid headlines and a bounce into Super Tuesday next week, when 14 states vote.
He’s proved his resilience when some had written him off.
As he told the crowd: “The press is prepared to declare people dead quickly. Well, we are alive.”
A well reviewed debate performance in Charleston and a subsequent endorsement by Rep James Clyburn, the most influential Democrat in South Carolina bolstered his support.
But he did far better than expected with young voters too – until now considered the reserve of Bernie Sanders.
So, could Biden’s win be a game changer? Possibly.
This victory underscores his enduring appeal among African American voters who will play a big role in the Super Tuesday states.
Here’s the reality: outside of Biden, no other Sanders opponent appears to currently have enough real support with non-white voters to beat him.
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Biden, with his more diverse reach, could still give Senator Sanders a run for his money.
If demographics play out, he’s in with at least a fighting chance to win the six southern contests, from Alabama to Texas to Virginia.
That would secure his position as a moderate alternative to Sanders. If he can survive Super Tuesday he could compete in delegate-rich Florida too, and the battleground state of Arizona.
There’s a whole lot of ifs there and Biden has a hell of a slog ahead. The hill is big, it may be insurmountable.
Bernie has momentum, energy, excitement – even if the Democratic party establishment don’t like it.
But one thing the man Trump likes to call “Sleepy Joe” does at least appear to have is his mojo back. Can he make it last?