COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Von Miller knows that Joe Biden is counting on folks like him, a black Democratic voter in South Carolina, to help salvage his presidential campaign after crushing defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Yet Miller still can't decide whether the former vice president has earned his vote.
The 45-year-old middle school teacher in Columbia said he values Biden's decades of experience in Washington and thinks he has the clout to push his policies through Congress. But Miller cannot shake the feeling that Biden lacks the oomph to beat President Donald Trump and that he's coasting on the coattails of his relationship with former President Barack Obama.
"I just need to see him hustle a bit more," Miller said. "The message seems to be, 'I'm Joe Biden. I know you're going to vote for me.' It's almost like just because he was Barack's old running mate, he assumes he's got the black vote in the bag." Miller is also considering voting for Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.
That's bad news for Biden, who rushed here Tuesday night before the results from New Hampshire were all in. He now counts on an overwhelming victory in South Carolina's Feb. 29 primary to dispel the narrative that he is doomed.
"It ain't over, man," he told a crowd of supporters in Columbia. "Up till now, we haven't heard from the most committed constituency in the Democratic Party -- the African American community."
His campaign has long regarded the state as Biden's firewall, given his longstanding support from African Americans, who make up 3 out of 5 Democratic voters, and his close association with the nation's first black president. Yet some black voters can't help but reconsider, discouraged by Biden's poor performance.
He remains the Democratic front-runner here. But in recent months, Biden has slipped significantly as two rivals in the state -- California billionaire Tom Steyer and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- have filled the air with advertisements and the ground with armies of foot soldiers.
"The firewall is in question at this point," said Bruce Ransom, a political scientist at Clemson University. "Even a month ago, it seemed like it was a done deal. Now it looks like that's in jeopardy."
Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 won more than 80% of African American voters in the state's primary, heralding support nationally that helped each win the nomination. While Biden faces more rivals, he led with support from just 30% of black Democrats in a nonpartisan poll last month for the Post and Courier/Change Research. But that was down 28 percentage points from the organization's poll in May. Steyer and Sanders were close behind with 24% and 16%, respectively.