Biden playing the long game by moving South Carolina up to first primary state

Joe Biden may be 80 years old but only Republicans and a few wobbly Democrats who think the president is out grazing in a pasture are underestimating someone who is, first and foremost, a politician of the old school. Biden’s decision to have the Democratic Party hold its first primary in 2024 in South Carolina, thus edging out traditional first primary state New Hampshire, as well as the first nominating process—caucus—state Iowa, is a political master stroke of genius. As it now stands, South Carolina will lead the Democratic primary calendar on Saturday, February 3. Having the primary election on a Saturday will likely increase voter participation among two Democratic strongholds, African-Americans and college students.

The fact that Biden should never be taken for granted was recently echoed by an unlikely foe of the president—former House Republican speaker Newt Gingrich. Writing on his own website, Gingrich opined the following about Biden: “Conservatives’ hostility to the Biden administration on our terms tends to blind us to just how effective Biden has been on his terms . . . Our aversion to him and his policies makes us underestimate him and the Democrats.” Surely, Gingrich, who once represented a suburban Atlanta congressional district, understands that in pushing South Carolina to the first primary state, Biden is playing a long game in exciting Democratic voters in shared media markets in South Carolina and Georgia. Biden’s move has more to do with playing political three-dimensional chess than in reciprocating the political life-saving support rendered to Biden’s faltering 2020 campaign by South Carolina’s Representative Jim Clyburn.

On Tuesday, February 6, New Hampshire will join Nevada in staging the second primary election. Nevada is much more representative of the Democratic Party’s coalition of Hispanics and labor unions than New Hampshire, which has traditionally provided the Democrats with a bloc largely composed of white intellectual and college-educated voters. This was the case in 2020, when Joe Biden placed fifth after Bernie Sanders—who is not even a Democrat—and Pete Buttigieg tied for first place with 9 delegates each. Coming in third was Senator Amy Klobuchar. Former university professor and Senator Elizabeth Warren came in fourth, followed by Biden. In 2016, New Hampshire also opted for Sanders from neighboring Vermont, a state that is also not representative of America and the Democratic Party. Consider also that New Hampshire has hardly ever picked as a winner a Democrat who would go on to win the general election. It voted for Hillary Clinton in 2008, John Kerry in 2004, Al Gore in 2000, Paul Tsongas in 1992, Michael Dukakis in 1988, and George McGovern in 1972. Walter Mondale and Gary Hart essentially tied for first place in 1984. One would have to go all the way back to 1976 to find a Democrat who came in first in New Hampshire and later won the general election. That was Jimmy Carter. Joe Biden knew all of these Democrats and he understands, more than anyone, that New Hampshire has been a gaping pothole for Democratic presidential hopefuls.

New Hampshire has developed a political industry out of being the first primary state in the nation, with pollsters, breakfast diners, Dixville Notch, and the Manchester Union Leader reaping a lot of free publicity in the process. However, New Hampshire, with its Boston regional commuter population in the southern part of the state, is reliably Democratic. But it is not really all that representative of the entire nation.

Iowa, which precedes New Hampshire and is the scene of an often unruly and confusing caucus process, has also built up a cottage industry made-to-order for pollsters, political consultants, and the overly-hyped polls and editorial board decisions of the Des Moines Register. Iowa, which is overwhelmingly white and conservative evangelical, is also a general election goner as far as the Democratic Party is concerned.

Although South Carolina is also, for the time being, unreachable for the Democrats in the general election, having a white evangelical majority firmly in the Republican column, that is not where master politician Biden has his sights truly set. It is next door in Georgia, where the Democratic primary is scheduled for February 13. By combining their campaign efforts in South Carolina and Georgia, with the major news media market of Atlanta—where CNN is headquartered—devoting much of its political coverage to the South Carolina and Georgia primaries, Biden and his allies have executed a political coup de grâce. The media hype over South Carolina and Georgia may also pay handsome dividends in another nearby southern state, North Carolina, which, like Georgia, has given the Democrats hope for the future.

Georgia not only voted for Biden in 2020 but it elected two Democratic senators, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. By moving South Carolina ten days ahead of Georgia, Biden or a candidate favored by Biden to take his place on the presidential ticket, can simultaneously devote their efforts, media advertising, and campaign cash on South Carolina and Georgia. This is made easier by the fact that South Carolina and Georgia share major media markets. They include the South Carolina Low Country and Savannah, Georgia; Greenville and Spartansburg, South Carolina and Stephens, Hart, Elbert, and Franklin counties in Georgia; and Aiken, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia. In fact, by moving South Carolina to the head of the pack, the Democrats may even be able to generate excitement for the Democrats among that state’s growing Hispanic and Asian-American communities, as well as among college students.

Biden has twice-unsuccessful Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to thank for reinvigorating the Democratic Party in the Peach State. Abrams’ voter registration efforts among Georgia’s black population has been directly responsible for the state being represented in the Senate by two Democrats. Depending on Warnock’s margin-of-victory over the GOP’s pathetic minstrel act, Herschel Walker, in yesterday’s run-off election, the Democrats can build upon their voter registration drive on behalf of Warnock.

Biden is very aware of the value of media markets to political campaigns. Representing Delaware in the Senate, Biden understood that it was the Philadelphia-Delaware Valley market that was the key to success for his multiple successful campaigns. Endorsements by the Philly newspapers, in addition to the Delaware papers, were essential for success, as was judicious spending on television ads on the three—later four—broadcast network affiliates, UHF stations, and later, cable outlets. With the South Carolina and Georgia primaries only a week-and-a-half apart, Biden sees the media markets of Charleston, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach; Spartansburg, Greenville, and northeast Georgia; Metro Atlanta; Aiken and Augusta; and Savannah and the Low Country not two states. That is the mark of an expert politician who understands how to successfully market politicians and their campaigns. Gingrich was correct in warning the Republicans never to count Biden out. He is a survivor in addition to being a senior statesman.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2022

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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