Biden skips visit to South Carolina for presidential primary, stops in L.A. instead

President Joe Biden hugs his son Hunter Biden on Hunter's birthday after dining at The Ivy in Los Angeles.
President Joe Biden, right, hugs his son Hunter Biden on Hunter’s birthday after dining at The Ivy in Los Angeles, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.
(Stephanie Scarbrough/AP)

South Carolina held the first official Democratic presidential primary Saturday. But as the polls closed, President Biden was 2,400 miles away, in Los Angeles, stepping off Air Force One.

Biden’s victory in the Palmetto State was a foregone conclusion, and his campaign invested significant time there leading up to the primary.

So Biden headed west. He and First Lady Jill Biden landed at LAX around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and were greeted by Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Maxine Waters before the president choppered to the Santa Monica Airport and his wife left separately for an event.


They had no public events, and there were no fundraisers known to be taking place.

Biden had a Saturday afternoon campaign meeting at a historic Bel-Air estate owned by director George Lucas. Jill Biden spoke late Saturday night at a gala at Paramount Studios in Hollywood in support of a nonprofit that asks retailers to commit 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands.

On Sunday, Biden spent 90 minutes at the Ivy restaurant with his son Hunter and grandson Beau. Hunter Biden lives in Malibu, and Sunday was his 54th birthday. He is a favorite target of the president’s Republican critics and faces federal tax charges.

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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Jan. 4, 2024

Republicans predictably grumbled about Biden’s decision not to visit South Carolina on Saturday, which they claimed was a slight by the incumbent.

“It just goes to show you how much he cares about actually coming and how serious he’s taking it,” said Abby Zilch, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Republican Party. “He and Kamala have spent the last three months coming down to South Carolina, telling South Carolina Democratic voters how much they’re grateful for their party here and how much South Carolina means to them. Yet he was all the way across the country on the day of the Democrats’ first primary.”

Shortly after Air Force One landed at the Los Angeles International Airport, news broke that Biden had easily won the South Carolina primary.

The state saved his 2020 presidential campaign after he was trounced in Iowa and New Hampshire and finished a distant second in Nevada. An endorsement from Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and the enthusiastic support of Black voters in the state gave Biden an overwhelming victory and provided momentum heading into the Super Tuesday primaries, which were critical to him becoming the Democratic nominee.


In return, the Democratic National Committee, at Biden’s behest, overhauled the 2024 nominating calendar, making South Carolina the first state to hold a primary recognized by the party. The move was ostensibly meant to give a greater voice to diverse voters in the early stages of the race, compared with caucuses and a primary in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire; it was largely viewed as a gift to South Carolina for saving Biden’s 2020 campaign.

The president, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Democrats, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have spent considerable time in South Carolina promoting the Biden campaign.

On Friday, Harris spoke to supporters at South Carolina State University, a historically Black college. After a drumline performed, Harris was introduced by the reigning Miss South Carolina State and touted the administration’s efforts to cancel student loan debt, cap insulin costs and boost the economy.

“President Biden and I are guided by a fundamental belief: We work for you, the American people. And every day, we fight for you,” she said. “Sadly, however, that is not true for everyone. Case in point: Donald Trump. Former President Trump has made clear time and time again: His fight is not for the people. He fights for himself.”

Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., noted the frequency of visits by the Democrats and their surrogates, including Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who visited his home county on Friday.

“This is repayment for what South Carolina did for Joe Biden, but on a larger scale, South Carolina is so stunningly important to the national Democratic presidential process that keeping this relationship tight and warm is incredibly important,” Huffmon said.


He added that he doesn’t think most Palmetto State Democrats would have a problem with Biden spending primary night in Los Angeles, given South Carolina’s rightward tilt in the general election. Trump easily carried the state in the 2020 presidential election. The last time a Democrat won there in the general election was 1976, and the candidate was a fellow Southerner, Jimmy Carter.

“He’s paid his fealty. He’s done his bows and curtsies, and now realism sets in. He’s not going to win South Carolina in November,” Huffmon said. “So the repayment of the debt has happened. Now reality sets in.”

Indeed, on Sunday, Biden headed to campaign events in Nevada, which is holding its Democratic primary Tuesday and is pivotal to his reelection bid in November.