MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Broadcasting today from South Carolina Public Radio in Columbia. The polls are still open at this hour in South Carolina as voters cast their ballots in the Democratic presidential primary. There are 54 delegates at stake. And just as important, this is a critical test for former Vice President Joe Biden, who hopes to reenergize his campaign for the Democratic nomination with a big win today. Joining me here in the studios of South Carolina Public Radio is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving.
Ron, good to see you.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Michel.
MARTIN: Also with us is Scott Hoffman, professor of political science at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. He also directs the Winthrop Poll, which regularly surveys political opinion in the state.
Welcome, professor Hoffman. Good to see you in person.
SCOTT HOFFMAN: Happy to be here.
MARTIN: All right, Ron. Let me start with you. Senator Bernie Sanders got to the primary here in South Carolina as the Democratic front-runner with all the momentum. Can Biden slow him down with a win here?
HOFFMAN: That's certainly what the Biden people are hoping. They're hoping that by having a big showing tonight that they can restore the momentum that's largely been lost out of their campaign. But because there's been an expectation that Biden would win here - this has been his firewall all along - that win would have to be substantial to really do him very much good. And if it is not, people are going to question whether or not Biden really got much out of the state.
And let's think of the unthinkable for the Bidens. If he loses here tonight, it's very hard to see how he can restore his campaign next week on Super Tuesday.
MARTIN: And, professor Hoffman, you've been following the ups and downs of the campaign here in South Carolina for a long time - really all campaigns for quite some time here. So former Vice President Biden has long been seen as kind of a dominant front-runner here, but his lead started slipping in recent days. So who is most in need of a good showing in South Carolina after Biden?
HOFFMAN: Well, you know, Bernie Sanders, you know, had what - 20-some percent of the vote last time around? He just got roundly spanked by Hillary Clinton. And that's because most of his vote was from the more liberal whites. What Bernie Sanders needs to do is show that he can actually get the votes of people of color, of African Americans - core part of the Democratic Party nationally. If he continues to win simply with liberal whites, he's not going to be seen as viable.
And one thing I'm looking for is Tom Steyer. He was a wholly unknown person - spent millions - I think $23 million in South Carolina. You can't - if you have an IP address from South Carolina, you can't get on YouTube, you can't do anything without seeing Tom Steyer's face. And I think a lot of people were looking for a moderate other than Biden, and so he has benefited. But, of course, the thing that shook up everything this week was the endorsement by Jim Clyburn.
MARTIN: OK. Ron, anything you want to add?
ELVING: Well, Jim Clyburn, of course, endorsed Biden. And that really did kind of put the halo back on Biden here in the state that had been knocked off by his poor showing in the first three events.
At the same time, Steyer has really gone directly at the black community. He has seen that as his best opportunity to get votes. And people have been talking about 55, 60, 65% of the vote being cast by African Americans. And he has ferociously courted them this week, not only with media but with public appearances. His family's been out and about. He's had really a lot of contact with young, black voters in the university community. So Tom Steyer could eat deeply into Biden's showing, even despite the Clyburn endorsement.
MARTIN: And we're going to hear more about that later in the program - of the fact that Tom Steyer has been such a presence in the state - and, as you pointed out, not just with the ads.
OK. So, Professor Hoffman, I'm sure you're looking at the exit polls tonight. Are there any particular groups that you're going to be paying particular attention to this evening? You know, obviously, you know, we've all talked about the fact that many campaigns have been working to court African American voters here in South Carolina but other groups as well. Who else are you looking at?
HOFFMAN: Yeah. So, you know, it's race, it's sex but it's also age. Last time around, 61% of the electorate was African American. Almost two-thirds were women. Black women are the crown jewel of the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary.
Barack Obama had an amazing campaign going after them and winning them. Elizabeth Warren took a really good strategy and tried and failed at that. Tom Steyer has been reaching out. But the other thing is age. You know, 18 to 24 was in the low single digits before. We look at 18 to 29, it still wasn't that high. So if we see a large number of younger people, it'll make a difference.
MARTIN: OK. More on that later this hour. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving is with us. Also Scott Huffman, professor of political science at Winthrop University here in South Carolina. Thank you both.
HOFFMAN: Thank you.
ELVING: Thank you