Democrats in Iowa will caucus on Monday in the official opener to the Democratic presidential nominating contest.
The race will quickly move on to New Hampshire, then Nevada before landing in South Carolina on Feb. 29.
What do the first three early states mean for South Carolina's contest?
Here's what to look for, including what matters and what doesn't as the race nears the Palmetto State.
IOWA AND NEW HAMPSHIRE ARE NO SOUTH CAROLINA
What can South Carolina glean from how voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada vote?
Maybe not a whole lot about how S.C. Democrats will vote at the end of the month. That's because South Carolina — and Palmetto State Democrats, especially — are very different from their counterparts in the states with earlier contests.
"South Carolina voters, especially African American voters, have never depended on other states' processes to determine the outcome of the South Carolina election," said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist, who called the elections in Iowa and New Hampshire a bit more of a "political roller coaster" than in South Carolina.
One way to look at the early-state lineup is Nevada and South Carolina balance the early states with more diversity than Iowa and New Hampshire. All together, the four states' contests give a sampling of how different types of Democratic voters are responding to candidates.
Consider their differences:
More than 3.1 million people live in Iowa, according to the U.S. Census, and more than 2 million are registered to vote. Ninety percent of Iowa's population is white.
On Feb. 11, New Hampshire will have its contest.
New Hampshire has fewer than 1.4 million people living in it and it's 93% white.
By comparison, South Carolina is bigger than both Iowa and New Hampshire combined — with almost 5 million people — and 27% are black.
Nevada is unique in the early-state lineup for having a high number of Latino or Hispanic residents, who make up about 28% of the state's more than 3 million residents. Whites make up 66% and blacks make up 9% of Nevada's population.
WHAT NEVADA MIGHT TELL SC
Nevada, more than Iowa and New Hampshire, may offer more of a preview of what's to come in South Carolina — but with one important distinction.
The southwestern state will be the first real test for candidates among a diverse electorate, more specifically among Hispanic and Latino voters — who make up a fast-growing demographic.
Though in South Carolina that demographic is estimated at 5.5%, much smaller than Nevada's, the Nevada contest is "probably more of a harbinger for South Carolina than ... Iowa or New Hampshire," said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato's Crystal Ball at University of Virginia Center for Politics. "A big part of the Democratic coalition in Nevada is the Hispanic vote."
"If Bernie (Sanders) does well out there, he could do well in parts of South Carolina with big (Hispanic) populations," Coleman continued. "But it's not really in itself enough to carry the state."
Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, added Nevada "will either continue or interrupt candidate momentum."
"Momentum is huge in February," Johnson said. "Whoever has momentum rolling (out of South Carolina and) into Super Tuesday, especially coming out of Super Tuesday, is in a good spot."
WHO DRIVES SC'S DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY?
Black voters and, even more specifically, women.
South Carolina will be the first real testing ground for candidates among black voters, who make up about 27% of the state's overall population but make up two-thirds of the state Democratic Party's primary voting bloc.
"I'll tell anyone, people complain about the (voting) process being flawed," Seawright said. "It doesn't really start until you get to South Carolina," where 61% of S.C. Democratic Party primary voters are black, according to exit polls. Heading into February, more than 3.2 million South Carolinians are registered to vote. Of those, 862,099 — or about 26% — are black voters.
In 2008, when turnout in the Democratic primary was 23%, women made up 61% of voters and blacks made up 55%.
WHAT SC MEANS FOR MARCH CONTESTS
What happens in South Carolina's primary at the end of the month will be seen as a bellwether for states that vote on Super Tuesday and later then in March when the contest speeds up and delegates become critical.
"The first three primaries are going to communicate to voters across the country which campaigns are viable, who is electable and who isn't," Johnson said, adding the winner of Iowa, however, doesn't necessarily translate to black voters flocking around that candidate.
For example, if Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, wins Iowa and New Hampshire, "those victories are not going to suddenly catapult him to the top, barring some other event happening," Johnson said, noting Buttigieg is hardly registering black support in South Carolina.
On other other hand, former Vice President Joe Biden — the most popular candidate among blacks in South Carolina — not winning the first two early states is not "going to drain black support," Johnson added.
WHO IS WINNING WHERE
According to RealClearPolitics polling averages, the early state races could produce a short list of winners:
▪ In Iowa, the contest is neck-and-neck, showing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders ahead of Biden and Buttigieg in third.
▪ New Hampshire is Sanders' state to lose. Currently, Sanders has a nearly 10-point lead over Biden, with Buttigieg again in third.
▪ Nevada is Biden's ball game, with Sanders in second and in third, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
▪ And South Carolina has been shaping up to be Biden's firewall, a state where Biden has considerable support among black voters. He's followed by Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg. More recent polls have shown billionaire Tom Steyer straddling second and third.
"The one thing we'll see after Iowa is how sticky Biden's black support is in South Carolina," Johnson said. "And, maybe if it's not sticky, then where does it go?"
2020 IS NOT OBAMA'S '08
The idea that Iowa helped vault then U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat serving his first term, to the top of South Carolina's 2008 Democratic presidential primary has its believers and non-believers.
"It was not because of Iowa. It was because black people had their minds made up that they were going to go out and make history," said Seawright, the S.C. Democratic strategist.
But others, such as UVA's Coleman and the Brennan Center's Johnson, a scholar of black voting behavior with the New York Brennan Center, say Iowa gave Obama his "edge" in the Palmetto State.
"Going back to '08, the Iowa caucuses were much earlier, the first week of January," Coleman said. "The last poll in South Carolina before the Iowa caucuses that was taken had Clinton up by two. The first poll taken after the Iowa caucuses ... (showed) Obama up by 12. He basically kept that double digit lead, going on to win the state by a pretty comfortable two-to-one margin over Hillary."
That win signaled to Southern Democrats that Obama, running to be the country's first black president, could win, observers said.
However, Johnson explained, "no candidate in this field is Barack Obama and this ain't 2008."
Johnson continued: "The big thing with Obama was of course, by winning Iowa, and coming very close to New Hampshire, he proved his viability to the nation, and that proof resonated especially deep in black America."
Even if a candidate gets a win in Iowa, without sizable black support already, there is no landslide win in South Carolina, Johnson said.
Undecided voters in South Carolina, where Biden has held the lead, also could look to Iowa and New Hampshire to see if their choices look viable, said Carol Fowler, former head of the Democratic National Committee and the S.C. Democratic Party.
"If you're looking at two candidates, which a lot of South Carolina voters are right now, and you're an undecided voter and you read every day that Candidate A is so far ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire, that might affect your vote."
The State, February 3, 2020
February 3, 2020
Voices4America Post Script.Tonight are the Iowa Caucuses. If you are as confused as I am about what the outcome there will mean for November, I recommend this article from the SC #TheState. In other words, who the heck knows. #Blue2020 Hey, #BoycottStateOfUnion tomorrow night.