CHARLESTON, S.C. (WIS) - In the final days before the South Carolina primary, all the top candidates for the Democratic nomination are criss-crossing the state, and it’s increasingly looking like a tight race for the top spot.
According to a recent NBC News/Marist Poll, Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading by four points in the Palmetto State.
Biden polled at 27 percent, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was at 23 percent support. This puts Sanders within the margin of error of Biden, which means it is statistically possible the race is even tighter than the polling shows.
As the most diverse electorate of the early-voting states, with African-Americans making up more than 60 percent of Democratic voters, South Carolina is seen as a crucial test for a candidate’s ability to appeal to a wide array of voters.
Some political experts believe because of the state's diversity and the large Democratic field this year, South Carolina is a make-or-break state for certain candidates.
“It’s going to be critically important this year, maybe play one of its more important roles ever,” said H. Gibbs Knotts, co-author of “First in the South,” a book on the history and significance of the South Carolina primary.
Knotts said it is especially crucial for Biden to perform well here.
“Biden has to win and I think he has to win by a considerable amount,” he said. “I mean just winning by a percentage point or two isn’t enough for him. I don’t know if he can do a double digit win, but somewhere in the seven, eight, nine, 10 percent range.”
Knotts and his co-author, Jordan Ragusa, also researched what it takes to win the “First in the South” primary.
“We found that, you know, media attention is important,” Knotts said. “If you have a big debate performance and capture a lot of headlines that’s going to give you a boost.”
However, he said candidates who spend a lot in South Carolina don’t necessarily win here.
Ragusa added that South Carolina is an easy state to campaign in because it’s cheap to advertise on television and on digital platforms, and it’s just not difficult to get around to the different counties.
He explained a candidate can “do a morning event in Greenville, swing down to Columbia and do something around lunch time, and then go to Charleston for an evening rally.”
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The two found South Carolina is also a more moderate Democratic state, and often voters here are more religious than elsewhere.
Their research also showed candidates from neighboring states like Georgia and North Carolina do better in South Carolina. In addition, African-American candidates typically do better, but Knotts notes Biden's long-standing relationships in the state may have drawn support away from candidates of color like Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.
It's a formula that leads to some impressive results.
Ragusa said in the past four Democratic primaries, South Carolina has selected the eventual nominee three times.
After South Carolina goes to the polls, its decisions live on, according to the book’s authors.
The Tuesday following the South Carolina primary is called, “Super Tuesday.” It’s a day when about 40 percent of the delegates who will decide the eventual nominee are allocated.
Because of South Carolina's proximity to this crucial day, our state has the chance to be a springboard for a candidate looking to gain traction.
“The Democratic party will be looking at what happens in South Carolina,” Ragusa said. “So I think in subsequent states people will be taking South Carolina seriously.”