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Biden Tries To Woo South Carolina's Substantial Black Voting Bloc


In the first week of his presidential campaign, former Vice President Joe Biden has been running like a general election candidate, taking President Trump head-on.


JOE BIDEN: We ought to let them know - we choose hope over fear. We hope unity over division.

GREENE: Biden made his first stop in the critical early primary state of South Carolina this weekend, and NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow was there as well.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Four months into the primary campaign, Democratic voters seem to be sticking to familiar over fresh. Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are leading the polls far ahead of the newer faces in the race. Waiting for Biden in Columbia, Sharon Jenkins (ph) said his long career is a positive.

SHARON JENKINS: I've always been a fan of Uncle Joe. When he was our vice president, my family just called him Uncle Joe.

DETROW: South Carolina is the first primary state with a substantial black voting bloc. National polls give Biden a commanding lead among nonwhite voters, and his track record as Barack Obama's vice president is a big reason why.

MARK OWEN: Joe is the closest thing to Barack.

DETROW: Mark Owen (ph) is still looking at all the candidates, but that Obama tie goes a long way for him. It's something Biden repeatedly referenced in Columbia.


BIDEN: I watched my buddy Barack stand up there; I watched him talk.

DETROW: Over and over again, Biden talked about their close relationship.


BIDEN: I heard you playing the tape of my buddy. My buddy - I shouldn't be so casual. President of the United States, Barack Obama.

DETROW: It wasn't too subtle.


BIDEN: By the way, he's a hell of a guy.

DETROW: So far, Biden has been running like he's already competing against Trump. He told the crowd in a hot, humid gymnasium that he's worried about the president's divisiveness.


BIDEN: It's the others, that black community, it's that - it's those folks coming across the border. It's those folks who are, you know - and so anyway, it just goes on and on, and quite frankly, I've had it up to here.

DETROW: But Biden also touched on some major policy priorities for Democratic voters. He singled out voting restrictions passed in Republican-controlled states.


BIDEN: You see it; we've got Jim Crow sneaking back in. No, I mean it.

DETROW: And in a race where most Democratic candidates back single-payer health care, Biden tried to carve out some middle ground. First, he said Congress needs to strengthen and improve the existing Affordable Care Act.


BIDEN: And we have to make sure that everyone - whether they have private insurance, insurance through their employer, with no insurance at all - they're able to buy into a Medicare-like plan, that anyone who wants to be able to do that.

DETROW: At Biden's early campaign stops, a lot of voters are saying they're backing him for practical reasons. They think that, of all the Democrats running, he's the one who can beat Trump. College student Emily Green (ph) shared that view as she waited in line before Biden's speech.

EMILY GREEN: But as, like, terrible as it sounds, I think Biden's probably our best bet at this point to beat Donald Trump in 2020 just because the country has shifted so far since the 2016 election.

DETROW: So many Democratic voters are dwelling on the idea of electability that candidates are starting to address it head-on. At a recent forum in Houston, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren urged voters not to compromise based on who they think can or can't win.


ELIZABETH WARREN: Are we going to fight because we're afraid? Are we going to show up for people that we didn't actually believe in, but because we were too afraid to do anything else? That's not who we are.

DETROW: But it's a trend that works for Biden, who's doing all he can in his early stops to look like a nominee.


BIDEN: Folks, above all else, we must defeat Donald Trump.


DETROW: Scott Detrow, NPR News, Columbia, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.