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Biden campaign hits the campaign trail in South Carolina

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The first votes for the Democratic presidential nomination get tallied a week from today, February 3. And even though President Biden does not face any major competition in his campaign, they're still investing a lot of effort to turn out the vote. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid is traveling with the president to South Carolina today. Asma, thanks so much for being with us.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

SIMON: So the Democratic Party changed its primary calendar this year to make South Carolina the first instead of New Hampshire. What's the president going to do in South Carolina today?

KHALID: Well, he'll be speaking at the South Carolina Democratic Party dinner tonight. He'll also be doing some other local stops. But he's not the only one. The first lady was in the state yesterday. She attended a gala for Alpha Kappa Alpha. That's a historically Black sorority. The vice president was here on Martin Luther King Day. So really, what you've seen is a lot of investment, I would say, from the Biden team - a lot of time and resources being spent here. You've also seen the South Carolina Democratic Party launch this statewide tour, and the Biden campaign says this is all about energizing their base. Josh Marcus-Blank is the campaign's communications director for state operations.

JOSH MARCUS-BLANK: We know that to be the Democratic nominee and to win the general, you need to be getting a lot of support from voters of color and, you know, our base. And that's what South Carolina is all about.

KHALID: And, Scott, you know, Black voters are indeed a crucial part of the Democratic Party in a general election. And in 2020, Black voters made up roughly 60% of the South Carolina Democratic electorate. And that is the major reason Biden wanted the state to go first in the primary process, was so that Black voters could have a larger say.

SIMON: All of that being understood and noted, the president doesn't have any major challengers for the nomination, and in the general election in November, South Carolina is not generally figured as a state that the Democrats are going to carry. So why all the effort now?

KHALID: You know, I think part of this is about trying to show that the president indeed values Black voices. But I think part of this is also about trying to quiet some of the naysayers. There's been a lot of handwringing in the Democratic Party about whether Black voters are enthusiastic about Biden's reelection bid. Adrianne Shropshire runs BlackPAC. It's a super PAC focused on Black voters. And she told me, you know, sure, you can learn some lessons from South Carolina, like whether the tactics that were used to engage Black voters did indeed work. But she also worries about folks trying to overanalyze or draw the wrong conclusion from South Carolina's results.

ADRIANNE SHROPSHIRE: My worry is that people will glean the wrong things because there's this outsized expectation. I do think that it's important that we understand that the electorate in a primary is different than the electorate in a general. And so what I would hate for people to take away is like, oh, young Black voters didn't come out, when, in fact, they're not likely to come out in the primary anywhere.

SIMON: So if that's true, too, and all the spin is done, what conclusions might people draw from whatever happens in South Carolina?

KHALID: I asked Tiffany James about this. She's a consultant in Columbia, S.C. And she says a lot of the voters that are going to participate in the primary are so-called traditional establishment voters. But Biden also needs to show he can bring in some of the outsiders.

TIFFANY JAMES: We know Biden's going to win the Democratic nomination. We know that. But just because that's known, that doesn't mean that we should, I guess, be lackadaisical and engagement.

KHALID: You know, Tiffany is a millennial. She's really worried about young voters who might not always show up in Democratic elections. And she says one of the big things Democrats need to do in South Carolina is show that they are willing to engage with those kinds of young voters because even if it doesn't matter next Saturday in South Carolina, it will matter in places like Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin this coming November during the general election.

SIMON: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks very much. Have a great trip.

KHALID: Thank you. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Weekend Edition Saturday
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.