By Trevor Hunnicutt and James Oliphant
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Joe Biden got the win in South Carolina he desperately needed.
The former vice president’s decisive victory on Saturday, his first in the Democratic nominating contests for the Nov. 3 election, allows him to more credibly claim that he is the leading alternative to front-runner Bernie Sanders.
But Biden faces significant hurdles. He has just two days to capitalize on the win ahead of Super Tuesday, when 14 states hold contests and more than a third of Democratic delegates are awarded.
His cash-strapped campaign has been unable to advertise heavily in delegate-rich states such as California, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, which vote on Tuesday. Nor has he been able to compete with the ground-level operations established by Sanders and billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Instead, Biden will count on a flurry of new media attention – coupled with high name recognition as the No. 2 to Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president – to power his bid for the party’s nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump.
With his new momentum, Biden hopes to boost his delegate haul from the Southern states in Tuesday’s voting to counter Sanders, whose grassroots army and extensive outreach to Hispanic communities could give him a boost in Texas and California.
Six of the states voting on Tuesday are in the South, which like South Carolina have a more diverse population than the voting states where Biden fared poorly. Exit poll data showed he won the support from 61% of black voters in South Carolina, far surpassing Sanders’ 17%.
Biden also will finally go head-to-head with Bloomberg, who skipped the early states and has spent more than $500 million on advertising in a bid to become the Democrats’ moderate standard-bearer.
Biden and an outside group that supports him have spent $16.5 million, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.
“We don’t have as many resources as Mr. Bloomberg, but we believe that we’ve done our work and frankly we do believe that the momentum from this week will help propel us into Super Tuesday,” said Biden adviser Symone Sanders.
Biden’s struggles in the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire made South Carolina so critical that he was unable to campaign elsewhere. A trip to North Carolina on Saturday was his first to that state since October.
By contrast, Sanders, who won New Hampshire and Nevada, was able to campaign in places such as Colorado and Texas.
At Biden’s victory party on Saturday, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, whose last-minute endorsement gave Biden a heady boost, said the Biden campaign needed to improve its fundraising efforts.
“We all have to sit down and get serious about how we retool this campaign,” he told CNN on Saturday. “I’m not going to sit back idly and watch people mishandle this campaign.”
‘A SHAKEUP IS COMING’
“We’re excited tonight,” a source close to the Biden campaign said on Saturday. “As soon as the booze subsides, and we sober up tomorrow morning, we’ll see a campaign that’s poor, disorganized and skeletal in crucial states across the nation. A shakeup is coming, and we’re ready for it.”
South Carolina could help push some wary donors off the sidelines for Biden. Several Wall Street donors told Reuters last week they were ready to support Biden if he showed he could win convincingly in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday.
Rufus Gifford, the finance chairman of Obama’s 2012 campaign, said he received about 100 messages on Twitter on Saturday night after he asked other candidates’ supporters to come over to Biden.
“People like to support a winner,” Gifford said. “As the moderate lane starts to understand Joe Biden is the best alternative, they will coalesce around him.”
After debating between Biden and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg for months, Gifford decided to back Biden in late January and has quickly engaged his vast donor network on Biden’s behalf.
Biden ended January with just $7.1 million in cash, less than enough to cover one month’s expenses for his campaign, according to a campaign finance disclosure filed in February. That compares with $16.8 million for Sanders and Bloomberg’s wealth of more than $55 billion, according to the publication Forbes.
A spike in online fundraising, including the campaign’s biggest one-day haul on Wednesday, showed Biden’s candidacy could be strengthening.
Any influx of cash following South Carolina will likely arrive too late to be of much use for Super Tuesday but could help the campaign in key later big voting states such as Florida.
Alabama, where Biden will campaign on Sunday, is a prime example of his Super Tuesday strategy.
The campaign is targeting congressional districts such as the state’s 7th district, which is more than 60% black. Biden won endorsements from the U.S. congresswoman for the district, Terri Sewell, and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
“We know that the tide is turning,” Sewell said. “We’ve been waiting for South Carolina because we know that South Carolina demographics really reflect, mostly, the demographics of America.”
The Biden campaign has launched a six-figure advertising campaign, including digital, radio and television spots across the Super Tuesday states, but in limited areas and largely aimed at black voters. The ads will not be running on television in California, the biggest delegate prize on Super Tuesday.
That means Biden’s television ad featuring praise from Obama will almost surely be seen by fewer people than those who saw a Bloomberg ad touting his own relationship with Obama, still popular among Democrats.
Mary Curry, an 83-year-old black voter in Raleigh, North Carolina, said early nominating states did not represent the country’s diversity and that Biden can unify the country.
“He represents all of the people,” she said. “There aren’t many of us in Iowa.”
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Alabama and James Oliphant in Washington; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson in Washington and Mike Spector and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Howard Goller)