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Biden Wins South Carolina Primary To Breathe Life Into Flagging Campaign

A huge victory in the Democratic primary in South Carolina has given Joe Biden a burst of momentum in his party's race to find a challenger to Donald Trump.

An outpouring of black voter support propelled Biden to a convincing victory, resurrecting his faltering White House bid and giving the former US vice president a chance to claim he is the moderate alternative to front-runner Bernie Sanders.

The win gives Biden a burst of momentum as the Democratic race to find a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump broadens quickly, with Super Tuesday primaries in 14 states in three days that will award one-third of the available national delegates.

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With 85 per cent of the precincts reporting, Biden had 49 per cent of the vote and US Senator Sanders of Vermont was a distant second with 20 per cent, according to official state results. Billionaire activist Tom Steyer had 11 per cent and all of the other contenders were well behind with single digits.

Former Vice President Joe Biden will win the South Carolina primary. Image: Getty

After the vote count rolled in, Steyer, who had been spending heavily in South Carolina to court African-American voters, ended his presidential bid.

Exit polls showed Biden with 64 per cent of African-American support to Sanders' 15 per cent. He also beat Sanders, the national front-runner among a broad range of demographic and ideological groups, including those who identified themselves as "very liberal."

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It was the first primary win for Biden, who is making his third run at the White House. The commanding margin will allow Biden, vice president under former President Barack Obama, to argue he is the most electable moderate alternative to Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist whose surging campaign has rattled a Democratic establishment worried he is too far left to beat Trump in November.

Biden and all of the Democratic contenders will face competition for the first time on Super Tuesday from billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has blanketed the country with half a billion dollars in advertising. Bloomberg skipped the first four state primaries.

Candidates Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren, Biden, Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar during a CNN TV debate. Image: AP

Biden desperately needed a win after poor showings in the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire and finishing second in Nevada. He had viewed South Carolina, where his popularity among the state's big bloc of black voters proved decisive, as his firewall against disaster.

"For all of those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind - this is your campaign," Biden told a victory party in Columbia, South Carolina.

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Sanders Wins Again, Solidifying Status As Democratic Frontrunner In Big Nevada Victory

Bernie Sanders will win the Nevada caucuses, CBS News projects, a victory that adds to his momentum in the field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

The resounding win could slow the momentum of Sanders, who had grown stronger with each contest, finishing in a virtual tie for first in Iowa with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Buttigieg, before notching wins in New Hampshire and Nevada.

Biden was projected to win at least 27 of the 54 pledged delegates in South Carolina and Sanders seven, with more to be allocated. No other candidate was projected to have won any delegates in the state. Heading into the primary, Sanders had 54 delegates, Buttigieg 26 and Biden 15.

It is Biden's first ever primary victory in three campaigns. Image: AAP

Exit polls showed about half of voters wanted a candidate who would return to Obama's policies, a key argument of Biden. Nearly eight-of-10 voters in South Carolina said they had a favourable view of Biden, compared with five-of-10 who saw rival Sanders favourably, exit polls showed.

Billionaire activist Steyer, who poured millions of dollars into his Democratic US presidential campaign, is dropping out of the race after a disappointing finish in the South Carolina primary.

Steyer announced on Saturday night in Columbia that he was dropping out of the White House race. After spending nearly $US24 million ($A37 million) on television advertising in the state, he finished behind Biden and Sanders.

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"Honestly, I can't see a path where I can win the presidency," Steyer said.

Steyer rose to national prominence as a climate change activist and by investing heavily in a campaign to impeach President Donald Trump. His presidential campaign was heavily focused on South Carolina, where he sought to appeal to black voters by decrying yawning inequalities in American life that he said were caused by racism.

With a net worth estimated by Forbes as $US1.6 billion, Steyer was a presence in the Democratic contest well before he made his candidacy official in July 2019, blanketing the airwaves with $US10 million in television ads advocating for Trump's impeachment.