Steyer as South Carolina Spoiler

The vanity candidate may impact the race.

I’ve long viewed Tom Steyer’s quest for the Democratic presidential nomination as a bad joke. He has never held elective office and was pretty much a non-entity on the national scene before his announcement. He has spent millions of dollars manipulating the DNC’s insipid rules and managed to get on the debate stage, where he’s mostly been ignored. So far, that’s gotten him to 2.2% in the national polls, leading only the lunatic Tulsi Gabbard.

But, of course, we don’t have a national primary but rather a weird system of state-by-state races interspersed with massive votefests on March 3 (“Super Tuesday”), March 10, and March 17.

And Steyer is looking pretty good for Saturday’s South Carolina primary, the last contest before Super Tuesday, which is only three days later.

CBS News:

The contest in South Carolina looks very different heading into its final week than it did last fall. Joe Biden (28%) has only a single-digit lead with Bernie Sanders (23%) now right behind him. The race has narrowed considerably since the fall, when Biden led the field by a whopping 28 points. Support for the former vice president has fallen by double-digits as Sanders and businessman Tom Steyer have made gains. Steyer is at 18%.

This poll was finished before Sanders coasted to a win in the Nevada caucuses Saturday night — though most South Carolina voters told us the Nevada results would not impact them.


Steyer has shot up into the top tier in this race with 18% of the vote, up from 2% in November. Support for him has risen sharply among black voters.

Among South Carolina Democrats who were recontacted as part of the survey, three in 10 voters who supported Biden in November have switched to another candidate — half of them (15%) now support Steyer.

The CBS poll is the most recent included in the RealClearPolitics average for South Carolina and there are only three other recent surveys. But Steyer is in third place in all of them. If this bears out Saturday, Steyer’s presence on the ballot could either hand the contest to Sanders outright—effectively ending the race—or sap enough delegates from Biden to deny him any real momentum from a win.

The longer the “moderate” vote is divided among multiple candidates—and Bloomberg will join the fray in earnest on Super Tuesday—the more impossible it becomes to prevent Sanders from winning a plurality of delegates. But, as I noted yesterday, all of the candidates have an argument for remaining in the race.

All, that is, except for Steyer.

Is the ego boost for coming in third in South Carolina really worth it?

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. de stijl says:

    I will earn as many electoral votes as Steyer. Zero.

    Zero buddies!

    Admittedly, scooter buddies are cooler.

  2. And the fact that Steyer can be this disruptive is just another example of how the structure of our parties and their nomination processes can be a problem.

  3. Rick Almeida says:

    SC checking in.

    Steyer has been advertising here nonstop since 2017. That’s no typo. It began with “Impeach Now” ads, and morphed into presidential campaign ads last year. For the last 3 months, his ads have run constantly, and he’s the only candidate with any kind of consistent ad campaign, which is very surprising to me.

    In the last month, he’s been doing something smart – his ads entirely focus on his liberal bona fides, and they constantly show him with Black South Carolinians, especially Black legislators. I think that’s wise – voters of color should make up 60% or more of the the primary electorate.

    What I am most interested in are the various campaigns’ GOTV efforts. WHO shows up on Saturday is going to be crucial.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    I can’t get too worked up about South Carolina. Three days later we have Super Tuesday. No one will drop out after SC. The only thing it’s likely to ‘prove’ is that black voters are drifting away from Biden, which we already know.

  5. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    I am pretty straight up a Vespa nerd.

    But the horn is underpowered and weak-ass.

    Such a perfect gal deserves a better voice than beep.

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Rick Almeida:

    According to this report, Steyer is also going out of his way to hire AA vendors, which is gathering goodwill, but also charges from some quarters that he’s trying to buy support. Absent any scandalous information coming forth, the complaints sound like sour grapes.

  7. Kathy says:

    I’m concerned the billionaires are not satisfied with meddling in the shaping of policies, and are instead taking power to shape policies directly.

    This has been a long time coming, and the rich have dominated politics since the beginning. But more and more it seem politics is about defending the class interests of the wealthy, and less about public service. Even the most self-involved, narcissistic Roman emperors saw to it the masses had enough to eat.

  8. Jen says:

    @Rick Almeida: He advertised here (in NH) nonstop too, for a VERY long time. He was one of the few candidates from whom I received multiple pieces of direct mail. His digital ad buys were so substantial my hairdresser’s 13-year-old son knew Steyer was a candidate, and could even recite some of his policy statements.

    Everyone knew who he was, but he didn’t get many votes here. I wish I understood the psychology behind this, but NH voters just didn’t go for his schtick.

  9. de stijl says:


    Not Latin, think Greek.


    Powerful because wealthy. Vice versa. Tautalogic.

    (If you Google Oligarch the second definition refers to current Russia situation.)

  10. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This was why front-loading was a stupid bad idea. Super Tuesday in this cycle is way too early.

    Things are too unsettled for a Super Tuesday. The DNC may have botched an easy win.

  11. Han says:

    @de stijl: The DNC has nothing to do with Super Tuesday. Election dates are determined by states. Super Tuesday isn’t even really a thing. It’s just a name the media gives to the Tuesday that the most delegates will be awarded, which generally coincides with the Tuesday the most states pick.

  12. de stijl says:


    I did not realize that.

    I sorta assumed the DNC had some control over the schedule.

    UK friends do not get US elections at all. Different system. Probably in the same way I do not get the nuances of UK elections. I swear I have explained primaries 20 times and it just does not connect.

    Now I learned a new thing today.

  13. Tyrell says:

    @Rick Almeida: “Impeach ads in 2017”: Now that’s what gets you.
    Steyer seems like a nice guy, but is vague on his proposals. How is he different from Biden? Or Kolbachar?
    I have not heard anyone talking about the deficit,or Federal government reform.

  14. Moosebreath says:


    “I have not heard anyone talking about the deficit”

    Mick Mulvaney said all that needs to be said about the deficit:

    “Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Wednesday that the Republican Party views federal deficits as “the worst thing” when Democrats are in power but are “a lot less interested” when their own party is in the White House.”

  15. de stijl says:


    Dick Cheney’s: “deficits don’t matter.”

    Deficits only matter when a D holds the White House. Then it is a cudgel.