By Shirin Ali
As the depth of his fifth-place finish in New Hampshire became clear, Joe Biden arrived in South Carolina on Tuesday night in an effort to salvage his weakening presidential campaign.
Introduced by his wife, Jill Biden, and his campaign co-chairman Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the former vice president enthusiastically greeted a modest crowd gathered for his campaign launch party in the state.
“You have no idea how great it is to be back in South Carolina,” Biden said.
Biden, the longtime front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination, finished a disappointing fourth in Iowa and received only eight percent of the New Hampshire vote. As he stood before South Carolinians on Tuesday, he asked his supporters to focus on the future, not his disappointing performance so far.
“Tonight though, we just heard from the first two of the fifty states. Not all the nation, not half the nation, not a quarter of the nation, not 10%, two,” Biden said.
Biden pointed out that Iowa and New Hampshire have overwhelmingly white electorates. South Carolina, which votes on Feb. 29, is the most diverse early voting state, with African Americans comprising approximately 60% of the Democratic electorate.
“It is important that Iowa and New Hampshire have spoken. But, look, we need to hear from Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday states and beyond,” Biden said. “Look, we’re moving into an especially important phase, because up till now we haven’t heard from the most important constituency in the democratic party, the African American community.”
Biden has long been considered a front-runner in South Carolina, where a significant number of black voters believe he makes a compelling case for electability against Trump, given his moderate views and more than five decades of political experience, including eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president. The importance of a strong performance here in the first southern state primary was not lost on Biden, who promised to be a champion to black communities.
“I promise you as your president, you will be partners at shaping the policy to make sure every single American has an opportunity,” he said to cheers as he read prepared remarks from a teleprompter. “You all leaders in the black community, you know what you do best. You know what you need, you know what your families need, and I’ve never not listened to you.”
Biden highlighted his role as a public defender, his work on county councils to fight red lining in the housing industry and his efforts to extend the 1965 Voting Rights Act and pass the Violence Against Women Act during his time in the U.S. Senate.
Relying on his close ties to Obama, Biden made a point of reiterating the work the two accomplished together while in office.
“Serving as President Obama’s vice president for eight years was the honor of my life, and became a close personal friend. I was never prouder than the day that we passed Obamacare,” he said, referring to the Affordable Care Act that extended health insurance to 20 million Americans.
Biden also presented his policy proposals, starting with a promise to eliminate many of Trumps’ executive orders that curtailed the Affordable Care Act, specifically preventing insurance companies from enforcing different rules for people with preexisting conditions.
Biden continued by highlighting solution to issues that disproportionately impact America’s black communities. He proposed investing $70 billion in the country’s historically black colleges and universities, eight of which reside in the state of South Carolina. He also indicated support for raising teacher pay, expunging criminal records for people with marijuana related convictions, and taking a portion of state’s marijuana legalization profits to fund prison reform and treatment.
“People coming out of prison, people coming back from serving their time, people coming back out of recovery, they should be able to get Pell Grants, housing,” Biden said.
In his 18-minute speech, Biden pivoted to his critique of President Trump, arguing that his support for the National Rifle Association is hurting the country’s minority communities.
“He spreads the message of prejudice and division. The White House welcomes the NRA, the gun manufacturers, while our kids are being gunned down on the streets, in the corners and in our schools,” Biden said. “Think about how depraved that is right now.”
On his final note, Biden spoke of the healing he required to cope with the death in 2015 of his son, Beau Biden, who had battled brain cancer. He said the United States could use some healing time, too.
“It’s not enough just to fight, you got to heal,” he said. “The country so desperately needs it. That’s the kind of courage and conviction we need in the Trump era to move this nation forward to a more perfect union.”
South Carolina’s primary is barely two weeks away, giving him little time to consolidate his support across the state. If he falls short here, his electability is likely to face serious scrutiny.
One week before South Carolina’s polls open, Biden will face caucusgoers in Nevada, where he is currently polling at 19%, a razor-thin lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won in New Hampshire.
“The people of Nevada are watching,” Biden said, “and I want to make it clear we praise their diversity as a state and I’m going to be out there to see them very soon.”