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Joe Biden enters 2020 Democratic presidential race. Here’s why he’s the early SC favorite.

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biden crowd Hollings funeral.jpg (copy)

Former Vice President Joe Biden was the focus of media after giving a eulogy for former South Carolina governor and longtime U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings at The Citadel's Summerall Chapel on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Wade Spees/Staff

With Joe Biden formally entering the 2020 Democratic White House race Thursday, he steps into a South Carolina battleground as the overwhelming favorite.


• He's spent more days here visiting, vacationing or politicking than the rest of the crowded field, combined.

• He's got decades' worth of headlines and friendships here highlighted by his delivering the eulogies at the funerals of Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond in 2003 and the funeral of Democrat Sen. Fritz Hollings last week.

• He's spent Easter holidays at Kiawah Island and raised tens of thousands of dollars — and political capital — both for and from South Carolina Democrats.

Perhaps most importantly, Biden has publicly recognized this early primary state's people and attractions.

Moments after South Carolina's junior Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott was sworn into office in 2017, the vice president looked at both Scott and Scott’s mother, Frances, and said: “When I die, I want to be reborn in Charleston.”

Campaign watchers have said Biden's longevity as a career politician paid off unique dividends in a state expected to be key once again in the Democrats' march toward the White House.

All that experience gave Biden large leads in a pair of 2020 Democratic presidential South Carolina primary polls over U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Kamala Harris of California, even though the former vice president under Barack Obama had not entered the race formally at the time. 

Biden announced his bid early Thursday in a video where he focused on the 2017 deadly clash between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Va. Biden, 76, noted Republican President Donald Trump's comments that there were some "very fine people" on both sides of the violent encounter, which left one woman dead.

"With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it," Biden said. "And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had seen in my lifetime."

"We are in the battle for the soul of this nation," Biden continued. "If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen."

Biden entered the race having already assembled an experienced South Carolina campaign team.

His state director will be Kendall Corley, a veteran Democratic operative who worked on the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, among others. Mariah Hill, who was campaign manager for Joe Cunningham’s upset victory in the Lowcountry’s 1st Congressional District last year, will be deputy state director.

Biden also brought on former state treasurer nominee Rosalyn Glenn as coalitions director, Cunningham staffer Scott Harriford as political director, and Paige Hill as communications director.

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A two-day Biden campaign swing through South Carolina was announced as well for Saturday and Sunday May 4-5 with locations pending.

Though U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn does not plan to endorse a candidate until later in the primary season, the Columbia Democrat called Biden "a great guy" Thursday who will "add significantly to this discussion."

"Biden being in it certainly adds a lot of experience and wisdom to it that I think will be beneficial to everybody," Clyburn said. "The numbers indicate that he's the frontrunner. His challenge is going to be maintaining that status. We'll see whether he's able to do that."

The former Delaware senator hopes 2020 turns out differently than his two previous presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008, neither of which materialized in South Carolina. Both bids ended before really starting. The 1988 run ended amid plagiarism allegations, while he quit the 2008 election following a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucus.

It was the 2003 eulogy at Thurmond's funeral where many were exposed to evidence of Biden's early ties to South Carolina. Attendance by other members of the Senate was sparse as Thurmond passed at age 100, but Biden spoke of their generational bonding.

"I disagreed deeply with Strom on the issue of civil rights and on many other issues, but I watched him change," Biden said at the First Baptist Church in Columbia during an address where he referred to Thurmond as "Mr. Chairman."

"We became good friends," he continued. "I’m not sure exactly why or how it happened, Nancy [Thurmond], but you know we did."

In 2010, as vice president, Biden came to Columbia to help dedicate the new $18 million Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, which will contain papers from some of the state’s notable politicians.

Biden served with Hollings in the Senate for more than three decades, and both shared a reputation for speaking from the hip. During his remarks, Biden said Hollings is more responsible for Biden’s becoming Barack Obama's vice president than anyone else.

“That is literally true,” Biden said. “That is not hyperbole.”

Biden stumped in South Carolina in late 2016, when he one of his former aides, Fran Person, ran unsuccessfully for the 5th Congressional District here.

Biden will have some of the same challenges with South Carolina voters as he will in the rest of the country. Questions will be raised about his age, his ties to the old guard in the Democratic Party and his stances over the years that were not always friendly toward African Americans who make up a majority of Democratic voters in the Palmetto State.

But he won praise in South Carolina as the vice president to the country's first black president and many local party leaders think he is best suited in the field, now at 20 candidates, to take on Trump in what will be a combative election for the White House.

Andy Shain and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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