South Carolina Black Caucus Member Says Joe Biden Is 'Done' If He Loses State, Questions Electability Versus Trump

South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford has warned that Joe Biden's 2020 campaign will be "done" if he doesn't record a first place finish in the state's primary race on Saturday.

The legislative black caucus member who backed former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg last Thursday told Newsweek that Tom Steyer was the "greatest threat" to former Vice President Biden's chances of winning the South Carolina primary, and argued that the billionaire had "not missed a beat" on issues that concerned the state's large African American community.

Rutherford also questioned Biden's electability going into the race, saying he thought the former vice president was a "fantastic guy," but arguing that his personality was "just not enough right now to beat Donald Trump."

His remarks came as polling showed Steyer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) making inroads with black voters in South Carolina, who are set to make up more than half of the state's Democratic primary electorate.

Biden still has a plurality of support among black voters in South Carolina, and has just received an endorsement from the influential House Majority Whip and South Carolina congressman Jim Clyburn, at the time of writing.

But a shock poll from CBS News and YouGov published on Sunday revealed that his rating with the constituency had fallen by 19 points in the space of three months as Tom Steyer's soared by 22 points.

Speaking to Newsweek on Tuesday, Rep. Rutherford said: "At the moment, I think Joe Biden still maintains a small lead. But honestly, his greatest threat appears to be Tom Steyer."

Asked why he viewed the billionaire as the biggest threat to Biden's lead in the state, the South Carolina House minority leader said Steyer had "not missed a beat" on issues of concern to black voters in the state.

"I think had Tom Steyer started here earlier, he probably would have run away with the race, just because he's invested so much time and so many resources here," Rutherford added.

After claiming that "a lot" of his colleagues had "gone toward" the billionaire ahead of Saturday's primary, the Bloomberg backer recognised that Biden had "a base level support" in the state because he had "been back and forth to the state from when he was a senator and vice president."

As primary polling averages for South Carolina stand, Biden has a clear lead over both Steyer and Sanders. According to the FiveThirtyEight average of the state's polls, an almost eight-point gap separates the former vice president and second place Sanders. The average lead Biden has over Steyer stands at a greater 17.6 points.

Joe Biden in North Charleston, South Carolina
Joe Biden addresses a crowd during the Rev. Al Sharpton Minister's Breakfast at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in South Carolina on February 26, 2020. Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

"Joe Biden is still the frontrunner as we head into the final stretch. He built a big lead early on, primarily among African American voters, especially older African American voters," said the pollster Peter Francia of the East Carolina University Center for Survey Research.

But he also recognized that both Sen. Sanders and Steyer had made "inroads" among black voters in South Carolina, noting that the Vermont senator proved in the Nevada caucus that he was "building a [more] diverse and broader coalition than he had four years ago."

Speaking about Steyer, Francia added: "He's made very concerted outreach to the African American community, and Steyer is doing noticeably better in South Carolina than he is nationally."

Polling data shows Steyer consistently outperforming his single-digit national polling average in South Carolina, where he has consistently polled in third place with around 15 percent support over recent weeks.

An NBC News/Marist poll published on Monday night showed 15 percent of the South Carolina Democratic electorate backed Steyer, with 18 percent of black voters in the state favoring him while 32 percent and 22 percent opted for Biden and Sanders respectively.

In a separate survey released by CBS News and YouGov on Sunday, Biden's support among black voters was marked down 19 points from November as Steyer's rating with the constituency leapt by 22 points and Sanders' jumped by 6 points.

An East Carolina University poll published on 14 February also found that Biden did best with South Carolina's older black voters while younger members of the community typically favored Sen. Sanders.

"He's made inroads with younger African American voters," ECU pollster Francia said.

Speaking to Newsweek about which candidate was most popular among his young peers, University of South Carolina College Democrats President Jackson Nietert said: "I'd say the most popular is probably Bernie Sanders, and second to that would probably be Pete Buttigieg."

He later added: "One of our students, and I say one literally, has been a long-term Biden supporter."

Asked why he believed the former vice president had seen his support among black voters decline in some South Carolina polls, Rep. Rutherford said: "Biden appears to have lost a step. He appears to not have what he once did. And that inability impacts his electability."

After claiming that he had spent "a lot of time" with Biden and describing him as a "fantastic guy" and "everyone's friend," the South Carolina House minority leader added: "That's just not enough right now to beat Donald Trump."

Rutherford further said the ex-senator would be "done" if he fails to win the most votes and delegates in the state on Saturday.

"I think even a second place finish for Biden is not good enough," Francia said. "He has to win South Carolina."

Could he see the ex-VP dropping out if he doesn't win the Saturday nominating contest? "I don't know anyone on the Biden campaign. But if I was advising his campaign, I would strongly consider that. The only reason to stay in is that Super Tuesday's right around the corner."

Newsweek has contacted the Biden 2020 campaign for comment and will update this story with any response.