Joseph Kasko

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — With the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary just days away, Joe Biden continues to maintain a narrow lead in the state, according to data from the latest Winthrop University Poll.

The poll, released Feb. 21, found 24 percent of likely voters said they support the former vice president, while 19 percent said they favored U.S. Sen. (Vermont) Bernie Sanders.

“Overall (it’s) bad news for Biden,” said Dr. Scott Huffmon, director of the Winthrop Poll and a professor of political science. “For him only being ahead by single digits. Now he is ahead by double digits among African American voters, so that’s his saving grace at the moment, but he is still far, far weaker than he should be.”

Rounding out the field, billionaire businessman Tom Steyer garnered 15 percent, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg 7 percent and U.S. Sen. (Mass.) Elizabeth Warren 6 percent. The remaining two candidates each drew less than 5 percent of support.

Huffmon said he is somewhat surprised Sanders is performing well in South Carolina, considering how poorly he performed in 2016 when he lost the state by 47 points to Hillary Clinton.

“(It’s) even more surprising that (Sanders) is essentially tied for second among African American voters,” he said. “Second place is a statistical tie between Tom Steyer, who was a total unknown until he started spending his billions of dollars (on advertising) here in South Carolina and Bernie Sanders, who got clobbered last time.”

The state’s “first in the South primary,” Feb. 29, is just days ahead of Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states and one U.S. territory will hold nominating contests and award a total of 1,357 delegates.

That amounts to more than a third of all delegates for the Democratic National Convention, as Super Tuesday includes states such as California, Texas and North Carolina.

Huffmon said it would be challenging for the Biden campaign moving forward if he doesn’t perform well in South Carolina.

“He doesn’t come out of South Carolina well, unless he has a decisive win. He could still win and if it’s by single digits, he’s going to be seen as underperforming and having lost what was supposed to be a so-called firewall,” said Huffmon.

“Biden would go on to Super Tuesday, of course, because there’s just so many delegates at stake,” he said. “But (his campaign) would limp forward to Super Tuesday, because that becomes his last hope, other than just scrapping by to a convention and hoping that a contested convention saves him.”

However, Huffmon said it’s possible for Biden or others to still gain ground, considering nearly one-out-of-five South Carolina voters — including 21 percent of African Americans — are still undecided, according to the Winthrop Poll.

According to a number of reports, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who holds a great deal of influence in South Carolina, plans to endorse Biden later this week.

“Clyburn has made a point to not endorse, he’s never endorsed (a presidential candidate) in the past, up to this point. He’s said that he’s going to make an endorsement on Wednesday,” said Huffmon.

“It’s almost certainly going to be for Joe Biden, so assuming he makes the endorsement for Joe Biden,” he said. “That would be a huge deal. It would be an incredible shot in the arm for the Biden campaign and it could just shake up what is expected to happen on Super Tuesday.”