Most South Carolina Democrats have avoided making detailed public predictions about how the party’s first-in-the-nation primary election will go on Saturday beyond President Biden’s near-certain victory.
But Representative James Clyburn, the 83-year-old congressman whose 2020 endorsement helped rocket President Biden to their party’s nomination, set some goals and expectations in an interview at the South Carolina Democratic Party headquarters on Friday.
“Seventy percent would be a success to me,” he said, leaning back in a chair with his feet propped up and referring to the share of the vote he hopes Mr. Biden earns.
Later, mulling past elections in South Carolina with much more crowded primaries and well-funded, long-shot candidates, Mr. Clyburn threw out a figure for desired turnout.
“I hope we get 150,000 people to vote, and of the 150 to 200,000 people, I would like to see Joe Biden get 70, 75 percent of that,” he said.
Since Democrats reordered the primary calendar to put South Carolina first, a recognition in part of the role the state played in Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory, Mr. Clyburn and other state and national party leaders have spent weeks working to turn out voters for a show of strength on Saturday to bolster Democrats heading into November.
Mr. Biden and other party surrogates have made policy-heavy pitches aimed at Black and rural voters in their visits to the state over the last several weeks, highlighting the administration’s efforts to reduce student debt and increase investment in historically Black colleges and universities, and they hope that the messages will resonate beyond South Carolina. (Vice President Kamala Harris plans to hold a get-out-the-vote rally at South Carolina State University, a historically Black institution in Orangeburg, on Friday.)
It will be difficult to compare Mr. Biden’s performance on Saturday with prior elections. He won roughly 260,000 Democratic votes in the state’s primary in 2020, according to South Carolina elections data, in a crowded contest that saw Black voters turn out in full force to support him. This time around, he is running against two lesser-known Democrats, Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Marianne Williamson, a self-help author.
But Saturday’s contest could still serve as a test of how effective the party’s messaging has been to those same voters — and of Mr. Biden’s appeal to a constituency pivotal to his re-election bid.
Mr. Clyburn blamed what he called the “MAGA wall” of Republican messaging for much of the difficulty on that front so far, arguing that Democrats have been left to defend institutions and freedoms at home and abroad while the other party abdicates its responsibilities.
“The question is, whose responsibility is it to break through that wall?” he said. “And say to the American people: ‘Beware.’”