Tuesday, April 16, 2024
World / North AmericaWorld News

Joe Biden to face challengers in Democratic primaries

While Biden is the overwhelming frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination, a few other longshot candidates are mounting challenges to the president.

The first is self-help author Marianne Williamson, who ran unsuccessfully for the presidential nomination in 2020. A former spiritual leader of the Church of Today, Williamson supports abortion rights, reparations for descendants of formerly enslaved Americans, and a single-payer health care system.

Democratic presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson speaks at a campaign stop in Keene, New Hampshire.

Democratic presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson speaks at a campaign stop in Keene, New Hampshire.Credit: AP

She has also lamented the Democratic Party’s refusal to allow anyone to debate Biden, branding it as “voter suppression”.

The other challenger is Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips, a former businessman who was elected to Congress in 2018. Phillips is a moderate with a reputation for being able to work with Republicans if it means getting things done.

The 55-year-old says that while Biden “is a good man”, he is too old, too much of a career politician in Washington, and that he can’t beat Trump.

“If it comes down to Biden versus Trump, of course, I would vote for Joe Biden, but he’s not going to win – and that’s why I’m in this race,” he said at a social media forum last week.

Representative Dean Phillips, a Democrat from Minnesota and a 2024 Democratic presidential candidate.

Representative Dean Phillips, a Democrat from Minnesota and a 2024 Democratic presidential candidate.Credit: Bloomberg

All eyes are on the Deep South

Iowa used to be the first state in the presidential nominating contest for both the Democrats and Republicans, followed by New Hampshire. But after a chaotic 2020 caucus filled with irregularities and delayed results, the Democratic National Committee rearranged the 2024 primary calendar and slotted South Carolina as the first contest of the campaign season.

In doing so, it noted that the southern state, which has a high population of black residents, was far more racially diverse than Iowa, which is predominantly white, rural and evangelical Christian.

“The Democratic Party looks like America,” party chairman Jaime Harrison said when the calendar overhaul was announced, “and so does this proposal”.

That said, Democrats did actually take part in the New Hampshire primaries alongside Republicans last week, but Biden wasn’t on the ballot, making him the first incumbent president in more than half a century to not register in the state’s early voting contest.

He ended up winning anyway, thanks to supporters mounting a campaign to “write in” his name (which is permitted under New Hampshire election laws) so that he wouldn’t be upstaged by Phillips and Williamson.

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Biden ended up with almost 64 per cent of the vote in New Hampshire, while Phillips had 20 per cent and Williamson had 4 per cent.

Black voters are the key

Despite being all but assured of the nomination, this weekend’s primary race represents an early test of Biden’s ongoing support among black voters, who helped propel him into the presidency in 2020.

Four years ago, Biden’s campaign for the nomination was on life support after a poor performance against progressive stalwart Bernie Sanders and Democratic rising star Pete Buttigieg in the first two contests.

But after coming a dismal fourth in Iowa and then slipping to fifth in New Hampshire, Biden won the endorsement of South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn, a highly influential figure in South Carolina’s black community. His fortunes changed immediately.

“I owe you,” Biden told community leaders at a campaign event in the state capital of Charleston last month.

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Whether they show up for him again in November is the big question. Across America, black voters have expressed disappointment over Biden’s inability to deliver on campaign promises such as voting rights reform and student loan forgiveness, and many point to the rising cost of living as a key issue.

A New York Times poll also recently found that 22 per cent of black voters in the six most crucial battleground states now support Trump. To put this in context, Trump won just 8 per cent of black voters nationally in 2020 and 6 per cent in 2016, according to the Pew Research Centre.

What happens on primary day?

South Carolina has an open primary system, which means any registered voter can participate in any party’s primary. However, voters must choose between the Democratic race this weekend or the Republican contest between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley on February 24 – they can’t participate in both.

This has led to some voters considering skipping the Democratic vote and casting a ballot in the Republican primary race for Nikki Haley in a bid to weaken Trump’s performance.

Nonetheless, the contest will set the stage for what is shaping up to be an election rematch between Biden and his Republican predecessor. Polls open across South Carolina’s 46 counties at 7am on Saturday (local time) and close at 7pm, with a result expected very soon after.

And while Biden is expected to dominate, Democrats know it won’t necessarily be smooth sailing for the president as he heads towards the general election in November.

“I believe in all my heart that Joe Biden will walk away victorious tomorrow night; however, two things happen in elections,” says South Carolina-based Democrat strategist Antjuan Seawrite.

“You either win or you learn – and sometimes when you win, you do not learn. So I hope that this will be a learning opportunity, even though it may mean growing pains for our party and for the reelection campaign.”

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