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Former Vice President Joe Biden leads in a new South Carolina poll by double digits, with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris the closest challenger. File/John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the clear front-runner among South Carolina Democrats, including keeping majority support among African American voters, a new poll shows.

The first Monmouth University poll of the 2020 cycle in South Carolina gives Biden a 39 percent level of support, meaning he's continuing to hold his front-runner status and by many points, despite a few miscues out of the blocks.

Following Biden in preference order are: California Sen. Kamala Harris, 12 percent; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 10 percent; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 9 percent; and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 5 percent.

Key data in Biden's favor is that the former vice president to Barack Obama continues to enjoy widespread support among black voters, at 51 percent, the survey found. Harris was second at 12 percent.

African Americans will make up more than 6 in 10 of the likely primary voters in South Carolina's presidential primary in February.

“Black Democrats tend to be more moderate than white primary voters," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. "Biden is the best-known candidate currently occupying that lane.” 

The rest of the pack is far behind and in low single digits.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer each earned 2 percent in the poll, with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke each at 1 percent support. Steyer has blanketed South Carolina with ads and mailers since joining the race two weeks ago.

The remaining 15 candidates included in the poll earned less than 1 percent or were not chosen by any respondents. Another 17 percent of likely voters were undecided.

The Monmouth results mimic those from Post and Courier/Change Research polls in South Carolina. Biden has led in all four Post and Courier polls taken since February. Harris has polled between 9 percent and 13 percent while getting as high as third in the field.  

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Earlier this month, Biden chose an appearance in Sumter to apologize for his comments about working with segregationist senators in his early days in the U.S. Senate. He said he understood that his remarks could have been offensive to some.

“Was I wrong a few weeks ago?” Biden told a mostly black audience. “Yes, I was. I regret it, and I’m sorry for any of the pain of misconception that caused anybody.”

Elsewhere in the poll, the top issues Palmetto State Democrats are thinking about in choosing a presidential nominee are: health care, immigration, environmental concerns, jobs and unemployment, honesty and integrity, defeating President Donald Trump, and education.

Defeating Trump still was a strong issue for Democrats. The overwhelming majority, 65 percent, said they prefer a nominee who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues, the survey found.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from July 18-22, 2019, with 405 South Carolina voters who are likely to vote in the Democratic presidential primary in February 2020, out of 659 registered voters that were contacted for the poll. The question results in this release have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 843-937-5551. Follow him on Twitter at @skropf47.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.