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Joe Biden wins the Arkansas Democratic primary

Biden’s Southern investment earns him a win.

Joe Biden visits the Buttercup Diner in Oakland, California, on March 3, 2020.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Ian Millhiser is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he focuses on the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the decline of liberal democracy in the United States. He received a JD from Duke University and is the author of two books on the Supreme Court.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the winner of the Arkansas Democratic primary.

Before Super Tuesday, Biden’s campaign placed a heavy emphasis on South Carolina, where the candidate hoped he could ride strong support from black voters to victory. That strategy paid off on Saturday, when Biden prevailed in South Carolina with nearly 50 percent of the vote.

Biden’s victory in Arkansas adds another Southern state to his column; signs of his strength in the region first became clear in South Carolina.

Until recently, the preferences of Arkansas Democratic voters were somewhat of an enigma, largely due to a lack of good polling data — although two late-breaking polls indicated that Biden was likely to prevail. Nor is there exit poll data from the 2012 or 2016 general elections in Arkansas. Hillary Clinton won the state’s Democratic primary by wide margins in 2008 and 2016, but Clinton was also Arkansas’s first lady for more than a decade.

Arkansas’s politics, moreover, have historically been distinct from much of the rest of the South. African Americans, for one thing, make up fewer than 16 percent of the state’s population, as compared to more than 27 percent of South Carolina residents, or nearly 38 percent of the residents of neighboring Mississippi.

Arkansas also resisted the Southern trend toward Republican dominance for longer than much of the former Confederacy. Indeed, for many years, the state’s politics were dominated by moderate white Democrats in the vein of former state governor (and president) Bill Clinton. As recently as 2010, Arkansas had two Democratic senators.

Yet, while Arkansas resisted the South’s turn toward the GOP for longer than most of the states in the region, it’s eventually fallen in line. Both of the state’s Democratic senators lost their seats during the Obama presidency. Former Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, once an electoral juggernaut who faced only token opposition in his 2008 reelection bid, fell to the hardline conservative Tom Cotton by 17 points in 2014.

Two years later, Republican Donald Trump crushed Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 27 points in the state’s presidential race.

So while Biden’s victory means that he will take home a good chunk of Arkansas’s 31 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, it says very little about the general election. In any scenario where a Democratic presidential candidate is competitive in the state’s general election, that candidate is already cruising toward a historic landslide victory over Trump.

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