Who Won the South Carolina Primary in Past Elections And What It Means for 2020

South Carolina will be the fourth and final early-voting state to weigh in on the Democratic presidential race as residents choose their preferred candidate on Saturday.

The Palmetto State's primary is the final contest before Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states will award more than a third of all pledged delegates.

"If you look at recent history, the winner of South Carolina has been able to use that as momentum to go on and win the nomination," University of South Carolina political science professor Robert Oldendick told Newsweek. "In terms of importance and being able to pick a winner, the state has a pretty good track record."

South Carolina has been claiming its "first in the South" title since 1980, when the state GOP held its first presidential primary. But the state's Democratic Party didn't hold its first contest until 1992.

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Since then, South Carolina voters have given a first-place finish to four eventual Democratic nominees: Bill Clinton in 1992, Al Gore in 2000, Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. The state canceled its primary in 1996, as Bill Clinton was running for re-election, and in 2012 Obama ran unopposed.

Hillary Clinton decisively won the state's primary in 2016. She defeated Senator Bernie Sanders by over 170,000 votes to capture 39 of the state's 54 delegates. After that loss, Sanders' campaign vowed to make the state more of a priority in 2020.

So far, Sanders has had the steadiest performance in the 2020 Democratic race, winning in New Hampshire and Nevada and capturing the popular vote in Iowa. But Oldendick predicts that the results in South Carolina will be different.

So do the polls. Joe Biden has been the clear front-runner in the state since entering the race, and while he doesn't have as big a lead as he did earlier, he's still ahead of his 2020 rivals. A Monmouth University poll released Thursday showed the former vice president with a commanding 20-point lead over Sanders. In third place was billionaire Tom Steyer, who has recently been surging in the state.

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south carolina prepares for 2020 democratic primary
South Carolinians stand in line for early voting on February 27 at the Richland County Election Commission in Columbia, South Carolina. The state's primary is on February 29. Sean Rayford/Getty

Biden also got a big boost this week from Representative Jim Clyburn's endorsement. Clyburn, one of the highest-ranking African Americans in Congress, announced Wednesday that he was backing Biden. The South Carolina Democrat said during a press conference that "nobody with whom I've ever worked in public life is any more committed to that motto, that pledge that I have to my constituents, than Joe Biden."

Biden has suffered major losses in other early-voting states and has admitted South Carolina is a make-or-break primary for him. He told NBC News earlier this month that has to do "really well" on Saturday. And primary losses aren't the only problem for his campaign. According to the most recent campaign finance filings, Biden, like many of his competitors, is running low on cash.

While a win in South Carolina "doesn't put him back in front-runner status," it would allow him to "continue his campaign [to] Super Tuesday and beyond," Oldendick said.

Eight Democrats are still vying for the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump in November. But only seven will be on the ballot in South Carolina on Saturday: Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren. Michael Bloomberg, the eighth candidate, is not participating in any of the four early-voting states in order to focus on Super Tuesday and the later contests.

South Carolina's primary works pretty much the same as a regular election. Unlike caucusing, where participants meet in small groups, voters in the Palmetto State go to a polling station and cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice. The results are expected to be released just a few hours after the polls close on Saturday night, although an official winner may not be declared immediately if the race is too close to call.

The state's polls open at 7 a.m. EST and close at 7 p.m.

Who Won the South Carolina Primary in Past Elections And What It Means for 2020 | U.S.