Former vice president Joe Biden won the South Carolina primary on Saturday, reviving his flagging campaign and positioning himself as the leading rival to frontrunner Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
All of the major television networks projected the 77-year-old Biden as the winner in South Carolina just minutes after polls closed in the state at 7:00 pm (0000 GMT).
The networks did not provide any vote totals but the early projections were an indication that Biden had scored a decisive win in the state where he was counting on heavy support among African-American voters.
A South Carolina victory was seen as crucial to Biden’s hopes of challenging Sanders, the 78-year-old senator from Vermont, for the spot on the Democratic ticket in November against Republican Donald Trump.
Sanders has been the clear frontrunner in the race having won both New Hampshire and Nevada after finishing in a virtual tie in Iowa with former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Biden finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and second in Nevada and he desperately needed a win in South Carolina ahead of next week’s “Super Tuesday,” when 14 states go to the polls.
One-third of the delegates who formally choose the Democratic nominee at the July party convention will be up for grabs on Super Tuesday.
“The biggest question is whether this will slingshot Joe Biden into victory in some Super Tuesday states,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Biden, who served for eight years as vice president to Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was the favorite in South Carolina, the first state with a substantial African-American electorate to hold a primary contest.
Speaking before the result was announced, Biden said he hoped South Carolina would propel him into national contention.
“I think I’ll do well,” he told CNN. “It’s been the launching pad for Barack and, I believe, for me.”
Biden had been leading in the South Carolina polls, a dozen points ahead of Sanders and 20 points up on billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who was gunning for a third-place finish.
Steyer has spent $23.6 million on ads in South Carolina, nearly 10 times the number two spender, Buttigieg, according to Advertising Analytics.
Biden and Steyer have primary night rallies scheduled in South Carolina but the other candidates have moved on already to the Super Tuesday states.
Sanders was campaigning in Virginia, Senator Elizabeth Warren was in Texas and Buttigieg was spending the day in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who is not on the ballot in South Carolina, spent the day in Virginia and North Carolina.
At one polling place in a suburb of the state capital Columbia, about 20 people were lined up at 7:00 am when the doors opened.
Samantha Rogers, a 67-year-old retiree, said Biden is the right candidate to take on Trump.
“He’s more experienced. He’s for all people, not just African-Americans. He’s for everyone,” said Rogers, who is black.
But for 21-year-old student Andrea Green, “Bernie is telling the truth. He’s authentic.”
Despite his South Carolina victory, Biden and fellow moderates including Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar may well face a Sanders buzzsaw come Super Tuesday, with the self-declared “democratic socialist” leading in the two biggest prizes, including crown jewel California.
Sanders is dominating there with 32.5 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, with fellow progressive Warren second.
Biden is a distant third with just 12.5 percent, in danger of missing the 15 percent threshold for earning delegates from the state.
In Texas, the other Super Tuesday delegate gold mine, a new CNN poll showed Sanders ahead of Biden by six points.
The senator also tops polls in Super Tuesday states Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, his home state of Vermont and Warren’s Massachusetts. Some of the races are tight.