Nearly two dozen candidates for Democratic nomination speak at marathon session of state party
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — The Democratic Party’s vast field of 2020 White House hopefuls turned up in South Carolina Saturday, jockeying for political position in the first-in-the-South primary state.
Over the course of nearly nine hours, a parade of 23 candidates spoke to delegates at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s annual convention, as party leaders interspersed business with eight-minute pitches from contenders — major, minor and obscure.
“It is the price we pay for all of these people wanting to see you,” quipped Trav Robertson, the state party chair.
During his speech, former Vice President Joe Biden — who held a 20-point lead over the rest of the field in the Palmetto State in a recent poll by Post and Courier newspaper — did not address his controversial remarks about being able to work with segregationist senators, which drew sharp criticism from his Democratic rivals.
He did, however, go directly after President Donald Trump, saying it was “imperative” to defeat him in 2020.
“You all know in your bones this election is more important than any other election you’ve been involved in,” Biden said. “Four more years of Donald Trump will permanently change the character of this country.”
In her remarks, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was in second place behind Biden in the Post and Courier poll, offered a litany of specific policy proposals, saying “people across this country understand its time for big structural change. The time for small ideas is over.”
The centerpiece of the program she outlined is a 2 percent increase on income tax for the wealthiest Americans to fund universal childcare and pre-K and tuition-free college tuition.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s appearance in Columbia marked a return to the campaign trail after he returned home to deal with the fallout after a black man was shot by a police officer.
“We already know why such deep wounds are surfacing, why our whole community hurts,” Buttigieg said. “My community is full of people who believe in safety and justice. We will heal, and we will become stronger in the broken places.”
Buttigieg, who placed third behind Biden and Warren in the Post and Courier poll, said Democrats “need a new generation of leadership” to draw a contrast with Trump.
“We are not going to win by going on the president’s show,” he said. “Are you ready to stand with me and change the channel?”
O’Rourke, who eschewed the podium and gave his speech on the floor amid a scrum of delegates and photographers, offered blistering criticism of the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“There are children sleeping on cold concrete floors with aluminum foil for blankets, in the worst, most inhumane conditions,” O’Rouke said. “That cannot be us. That cannot be America. But for as long as this man is in office, it will be.”
Castro made a call for police reform, rattling off a list of African Americans and Latinos who died at the hands of police.
“They deserve justice too,” said Castro, who said if he’s elected, “we won’t have any second-class citizens in the United States.”
In his remarks, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont pushed back on comments made earlier in the week at a gathering of party centrists that the self-described Democratic socialist presents “an existential threat” to the party.
“Why am I an existential threat? Maybe it’s because I will take on the insurance companies and the drug companies and pass a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program,” Sanders said. “Maybe it’s because we’re going to break up the major banks on Wall Street … Maybe it’s because we’re going to take on the fossil fuel industry.”
Sanders has been running second to Biden in most national polls, but he has been trying to regain his footing in South Carolina, where his support has dropped to just 9 percent in the latest Post and Courier poll, putting him in fourth place.
The day of speeches kicked off with U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California, who criticized what she called Trump’s “rap sheet” in pushing tax cuts, tariffs and embracing “dictators” around the world.
“Let’s prosecute that case, and let’s not turn back the clock,” she said. “Let’s start the next chapter.”
Klobuchar highlighted her working class background and called for an “optimistic economic agenda” that works for all parts of the country.
“I don’t come from money. I have grit. And I got into politics for a reason,” Klobuchar said. “I know how to win.”
Booker said Democrats can’t be satisfied with just beating Trump but must embrace “bold dreams.”
“Beating Donald Trump gets us out of the valley, but it doesn’t get us to the mountaintop,” he said. “He wants to make this election about hate; we need to make this election about love. He wants to make this election about tearing people down; we need to make this election about building people up.”
South Carolina’s 2020 presidential primary, scheduled for Feb. 29, will be the fourth contest, after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. It will be the first test of candidates’ appeal in the South and among African Americans, who make up a majority of Democratic voters in the state.
The Post and Courier’s latest poll found Biden was the choice of 37 percent of likely primary voters, bolstered by his strong support among black voters, among whom he tops 50 percent.
Warren was followed at 17 percent and Buttigieg at 11 percent. None of the other candidates were in double digits.