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SC 2020 Democratic primary storylines for Biden, Sanders, Steyer — and Bloomberg

With Iowa and New Hampshire out of the way, South Carolina is now in the 2020 presidential spotlight.

Here are some of the storylines voters will see over the two weeks before the Feb. 29 Democratic primary.

Can Biden hang on?

The last thing Joe Biden needs is another bad showing. He's had two already.

A bad showing in South Carolina is possible even with a victory.

The former vice president needs to win big to build momentum for Super Tuesday, political observers say. But his lead in his so-called "firewall" state keeps shrinking in polls.

"He needs a double-digit win," College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said. "He's not run a great campaign."

Biden's hope rests with black voters, who account for two out of every three ballots cast in South Carolina, the first early-voting state with a major African American electorate. 

The veteran politician who vacations in the Charleston area could get a boost with an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in the House, but the Columbia congressman has said he won't reveal his pick until after the Feb. 25 debate in Charleston.

"Biden needs to stop the bleeding and convince voters he's not totally flaming out," Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson said.

Will Sanders stay hot?

The magic number for current race front-runner Bernie Sanders might be 26. 

The Vermont senator nabbed 26 percent of the vote in a 2016 South Carolina presidential primary when he was trounced by eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. 

But in 2020, that could be enough for Sanders to win in the Palmetto State.

This month, the leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire netted 26 percent with a larger field dividing support.

Sanders' key will be getting enough African American support in South Carolina, Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said.

Sanders received 14 percent of the S.C. black voters in 2016 exit polls. He's polling about the same in 2020, suggesting the 26 percent mark is within reach.

The progressive candidate also will need to turn back opposition from the state's centrist Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham of Charleston, who flipped a Republican district in the Lowcountry in 2018, said last week that S.C. voters don't want socialism or Sanders' proposals that will raise taxes in what could be called an anti-endorsement.

Is Steyer for real?

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If you live in South Carolina and don't know about billionaire activist Tom Steyer, you don't have a mailbox, inbox, radio, TV, computer or smartphone. His avalanche of ads reaches everyone in the house — even your kids.

Steyer's ad bombardment, along with his laser-like focus on winning over the black community, has made him a main Biden foe in South Carolina in a matter of months. Steyer has backing from major black politicians and symbolic black leaders like the woman who coined Barack Obama's popular campaign mantra, "Fired up, ready to go."  

Steyer is being rewarded by African American voters for campaigning for Trump's impeachment months ahead of joining the race, as well as backing reparations and climate change, University of South Carolina political scientist Todd Shaw said.  

"Steyer has been making a full-court press," he said.

Can Buttigieg, Klobuchar attract black voters?

Pete Buttigieg, the current leader in Iowa and second-place finisher in New Hampshire, and Amy Klobuchar, the third-place finisher in New Hampshire known for strong debate performances, have generated good buzz so far. 

But the pair of centrist Midwest politicians have a huge obstacle in South Carolina: They have minuscule support among black voters. 

In the latest Post and Courier-Change Research poll, Buttigieg, the former Indiana mayor, had 2 percent of African American support. Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator, received 1 percent.

They could find some additional black-voter support in the final two weeks as two of the race's hottest candidates, "but not on a huge level," Huffmon said. 

Where's Bloomberg?

Mike Bloomberg is skipping the early-voting states. The former New York mayor is not even on the ballot in South Carolina. His race starts on Super Tuesday.

Still, the billionaire media mogul's national ads are seen in South Carolina, so a few voters will likely have a complaint on primary day.

"People will be shocked not see him on the ballot," Vinson said.

And voters have no write-in option for a presidential primary.

Is Super Tuesday too close?

Super Tuesday is too attractive for candidates to skip.

About 40 percent of delegates will be chosen in 14 states just three days after the South Carolina primary.

Candidate will split their time between South Carolina and Super Tuesday states, especially North Carolina, a battleground state. Sanders visited Charlotte on Friday.

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