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5 Southern U.S. House Democrats from pro-Trump districts support impeachment bill

Vote on bill outlining procedures for impeachment process breaks down along party lines

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Southern U.S. House Democrats who hold seats from districts President Donald Trump carried in 2016 voted with their party Thursday to approve procedures for his possible impeachment, a vote they’ll have to defend as they fight to keep their seats next year.

The Democrats from Trump districts who voted yes included Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, and Joe Cunningham of South Carolina.

Cunningham, Horn and McBath had not previously expressed support for the impeachment inquiry; Spanberger and Luria had.

Five other Democrats who also flipped GOP-held seats in 2018 — Colin Alled and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala of Florida — also voted for the resolution. Those districts were carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

These 10 seats are at the top of the GOP target list for 2020, with the impeachment vote certain to be an issue in those races.

Two other GOP 2020 targets — Democrats Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist from Florida — also voted in favor of the impeachment measure.

The lone Republican in a Southern seat Clinton carried, Will Hurd of Texas, voted no, as did eight other Southern Republicans who have announced they won’t seek another term in 2020.

The overall vote among Southern House members on the bill broke down entirely along party lines. Across the whole House, no Republicans supported the measure, while two Democrats —  Collin Peterson from Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — voted no.

Thursday’s vote was the first formal move by House Democrats to advance the impeachment of Trump over his overture to the president of Ukraine to investigate corruption allegations against his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

Cunningham told the Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston that he was voting for the bill in order to make the investigation into Trump more transparent, as Republicans have been demanding.

“Overall it’s a good measure to shine some light on these hearings and make sure that we respect due process,” Cunningham told the Post and Courier.

Horn, announcing her support for the bill on Twitter, stressed that she was only supporting an investigation, not Trump’s actual impeachment.

“It is a vote to create clear rules for effective public hearings and ensure transparency for the American people,” she said.  “As I’ve said all along, I always look at the facts in front of me and vote in the best interests of Oklahomans.”

Even before the vote, McBath had felt the potential sting of the impeachment fight when unhappy Trump supporters picketed her district office in suburban Atlanta earlier this month. In response, McBath took to Twitter to say she refused “to be intimidated, I will do what is right,” and included a fundraising solicitation in her post.

Three Southern House members did not vote on the impeachment bill — Jody Hice of Georgia, John Rose of Tennessee, Don McEachin of Virginia.

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Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford will challenge Donald Trump for GOP nomination

Sanford says Trump has strayed from Republican orthodoxy and damaged political institutions

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Note: Video of Sanford’s announcement is at end of post.

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford has announced he will challenge President Donald Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, faulting the president for straying from GOP orthodoxy on spending and trade and damaging the nation’s political culture.

“I think we need to have a conversation on what it means to be a Republican. I think that as a Republican Party, we have lost our way,” Sanford said on Fox News Sunday, where he announced his challenge on September 8. “Americans deserve and need a choice.”

Sanford announces on Fox News Sunday

Despite his long pedigree in politics, which includes two terms as governor and 12 years in the U.S. House, Sanford faces the steepest of uphill climbs in trying to unseat Trump, whose approval ratings among Republicans top 80 percent.

The Republican National Committee has shut down the possibility of primary debates, and state parties have begun scrapping primary contests against Trump — including Sanford’s home state of South Carolina.

The president, who announced his 2020 re-election bid shortly after his inauguration in 2017, has already raised $125 million for the coming campaign.

Asked about the long odds he faces, Sanford noted that Trump was also considered a long shot when he ran in 2016 and insisted rank-and-file Republicans are more interested in a primary contest than their party leaders.

“This is the beginning of a long walk, but it begins with that first step,” he said.

Sanford said he would emphasize the ballooning level of spending and debt on Trump’s watch and the president’s tariffs policy, both of which he said are a departure from conventional Republican positions of spending restraint and free trade.

He said his campaign would also provide the opportunity to discuss “the degree to which institutions and political culture are being damaged by this president.”

“Those institutions and that political culture is really the glue that holds together our balance of power,” Sanford said.

He also took a slap at Trump’s use of his favorite medium of communication, Twitter.

“At the end of the day, a tweet is interesting, maybe newsworthy, but it’s not leadership,” he said. “And we’re not going to solve some of the profound problems that we have as Americans by tweet.”

After winning his second term as the Palmetto State’s governor in 2006, Sanford was being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for 2012 — until he disappeared after telling his staff that he was off hiking the Appalachian Trail, when he was actually in Argentina canoodling with his mistress.

Ignoring calls to resign, Sanford completed his term in 2011. Two years later, he came back from the political graveyard by reclaiming his Low Country House seat in a special election.

After Trump was elected, Sanford became one of the few Republicans in the House willing to criticize him publicly. The president got his revenge by endorsing Sanford’s opponent on the day of the 2018 primary election — and taking great public glee when Sanford lost. (Democrat Joe Cunningham won the seat in November.)

Sanford told Fox News that his run against Trump is not personal but based on principle, noting that he voted with the president 90 percent of the time. But he said Trump’s active opposition to his re-election “is indicative of the way he makes too many things personal.”

“The world of Trump is personal loyalty,” he said.

In addition to Sanford, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld and former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh from Illinois are running against Trump. Weld comes from the GOP’s moderate wing; Walsh, like Sanford, is a conservative.

In addition to South Carolina, Republicans in Nevada and Kansas have also canceled their 2020 primary contests.

Video of Sanford’s announcement

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Most Southern U.S. House Democrats keeping their powder dry on Trump impeachment

Just 17 of 50 Southern members have come out for impeachment inquiry, most representing safe Democratic districts

♦ By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — A majority of members of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives have now come out publicly in favor of launching an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, but Southern members are showing more caution about taking that political plunge.

As of August 1, just 17 of the 50 Southern Democrats in the House have called for an impeachment inquiry, all but two of whom represent safe Democratic or majority-minority districts where support for impeachment presents them with little future political peril.

Just two of the 10 Southern Democrats who flipped Republican seats in 2018 — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia — have come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry. And none of the five Southern Democrats representing districts Trump carried in 2016 — Lucy McBath of Georgia, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, and Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia — have taken that step.

Five other Democrats at the top of the Republican target list for 2020 — Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, and Donna Shalala, Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy of Florida — are also not supporting an impeachment inquiry.

The list of Southern Democrats who have so far not offered public support for an impeachment inquiry includes some of high-profile members, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee; civil rights icon John Lewis of Georgia; and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 ranking Democrat in the House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership have been resisting calls to move forward on impeachment, which is why many of the more veteran members have not offered their support.

Here is a state-by-state breakdown of which Southern Democrats have and have not come out for an impeachment inquiry:

Alabama
Not Yet In Support: Terri Sewell

Florida
Support: Mucarsel-Powell, Val Demings, Ted Deutch
Not Yet In Support: Murphy, Crist, Shalala, Wasserman Schultz, Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Frederika Wilson

Georgia
Not Yet In Support: Lewis, McBath, Sanford Bishop, Hank Johnson, David Scott

Kentucky
Support: John Yarmuth

Louisiana
Support: Cedric Richmond

Mississippi
Support:
Bennie Thompson

North Carolina
Support: G.K. Butterfield, Alma Adams
Not Yet In Support: David Price

Oklahoma
Not Yet In Support: Horn

South Carolina
Not Yet In Support: Cunningham, Clyburn

Tennessee
Support: Steve Cohen
Not Yet In Support: Jim Cooper

Texas
Support: Veronica Escobar, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Al Green, Joaquin Castro, Filemon Vela, Lloyd Doggett
Not Yet In Support: Fletcher, Allred, Vicente Gonzalez, Henry Cuellar, Sylvia Garcia, Eddie Bernice-Johnson, Marc Veasey

Virginia
Support: Wexton, Don Beyer
Not Yet In Support: Luria, Spanberger, Bobby Scott, Donald McEacherin, Gerry Connolly

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Southern U.S. House Democrats in Trump districts post strong fundraising numbers for 2020 re-election bids

Democratic challengers in targeted GOP seats show more fundraising success so far than Republican challengers in targeted Democrat seats

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Southern U.S. House Democratic freshmen who represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016 have posted strong fundraising numbers during the first half of 2019, stocking up their war chests ahead of expected stiff re-election challenges from Republicans in 2020, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

McBath

Cunningham

Topping the list was Joe Cunningham of South Carolina at $1.28 million, followed by Lucy McBath of Georgia at $1.15 million and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia at $1.12 million. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma raised $961,500, while in Virginia, Elaine Luria raised $865,400.

All five hold significant leads in fundraising over their Republican rivals, although McBath’s GOP challengers have, together, raised more money than she has. So far, Spanberger and Luria are getting a free ride against GOP challengers who have raised very little money, with 17 months to go before election day.

The new numbers also show that across the South, Democratic challengers in targeted GOP seats have had somewhat more fundraising success to date than Republican challengers in targeted Democrat seats, with no significant fundraising to this point from Republican challengers in five of the 10 seats Democrats flipped in 2018.

Hurd

However, the lone Southern Republican who represents a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 — Will Hurd in West Texas’s 23rd District — raised $1.23 million, more than twice as much as Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones, whom he beat in 2018.

The race that has drawn the most money so far is the contest in Georgia’s 7th District, a GOP-held seat in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs where Rob Woodall is retiring. Seven Republicans and five Democrats have together raised nearly $2.9 million, with Republican State Senator Renee Unterman and Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who nearly unseated Woodall in 2018, leading the pack.

In 2018, five Democrats won Clinton districts that had been held by Republicans — Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala in Florida; Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in Texas; and Jennifer Wexton in Virginia. Powell, Allred and Fletcher have all raised more than $1 million for 2020; Wexton, $932,400; and Shalala, $691,500.

Shalala, Allred and Wexton have yet to draw challengers who have raised significant amounts of money. Mucarsel-Powell and Fletcher have, although both hold a significant fundraising advantage over their nearest Republican rival at this point in the campaign cycle.

The Democrats’ House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is targeting 11 Southern seats currently held by Republicans, and Democratic challengers have raised at least $300,000 in six of those districts, including four seats in Texas, where Democrats hope to build on gains made in 2018.

The Republicans’ House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee, is targeting 12 Southern seats currently held by Democrats, and Republican challengers have raised at least $300,000 in just three of those districts, held by Horn, McBath and Fletcher.

GOP challengers have topped the $200,000 mark in the race against Cunningham and in two other Democrat-held seats in Florida, now held by Mucarsel-Powell in South Florida and Charlie Crist in Pinellas County.

The most glaring absence for Republicans is in Virginia, where all three Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 — Spanberger, Luria and Wexton — are, to this point, getting a free ride.

Based on the latest fundraising numbers, here are the 2020 races to keep an eye on:

Texas: Democratic challengers have raised substantial money in four districts where Republican incumbents won narrow victories in 2018: Hurd in West Texas; Pete Olson in suburban Houston; Kenny Marchant in Dallas-Ft. Worth; and Michael McCaul, whose district runs from the suburbs of Austin to the suburbs of Houston. All four incumbents still hold a fundraising advantage, although Olson has only raised $230,000 more than Democrat Sri Kulkarni, whom he beat by just 5 points in 2018, and two Democrats running against McCaul have together raised nearly $670,000, compared to his $875,500. Given that Democrats are staying competitive financially, all four of these races will likely be close in 2020.

Georgia 6/Atlanta’s Northwest Suburbs: McBath shocked the political world in 2018 when she defeated Republican Karen Handel, a former statewide officeholder with a long political pedigree. Handel is trying a comeback in 2020, and the Republican race has already turned into a food fight between her and former State Senator Brandon Beech. But the surprise so far in fundraising has come from Republican Marjorie Greene, a Milton businesswoman making her first run for political office who has already raised $523,400, eclipsing both Handel and Beech. And while Republicans will need to spend money slugging it out in a primary, McBath has what appears to be an unobstructed path to the Democratic nomination.

Georgia 7/Atlanta’s Northeast Suburbs: After winning by a scant 420 votes in 2018, Woodall decided to retire. Bourdeaux, the woman who nearly toppled him, is running again and currently holds a large fundraising lead over her Democratic rivals at $654,200. On the Republican side, Unterman — best known in the legislature as the author of a controversial law outlawing abortions once a child’s heartbeat has been detected — has raised $677,500, followed by Lynne Hormich, a former Home Depot executive making her political debut, at $500,300. This race, which could feature two Republican women in a runoff, will closely watched by GOP leaders looking to add to the thin ranks of Republican women in Congress.

Oklahoma 5/Metro Oklahoma City: Horn may arguably be the nation’s most vulnerable Democrat, in ruby red Oklahoma. And while she has posted strong fundraising numbers so far, two Republican rivals have together raised more than $710,000 to her $961,500. One key to her ultimate survival is how much money her GOP rivals will spend in a primary; right now, businesswoman Terry Neese has outraised the other Republican in the race, State Senator Stephanie Bice, by a 3-to-1 margin. The less competitive the Republican primary is, the more Horn will need to worry — but she’ll need to worry quite a bit in any case.

South Carolina 1/Charleston and the Lowcountry: Cunningham, too, faces an uphill battle for re-election in a traditionally Republican district. But his fundraising has been strong — only two Southern incumbents in either party have raised more money — and he has been trying to carve out a moderate voting record. Three Republicans running against him have, together, raised just a little more than $540,000, less than half of his total. Cunningham is to this point running a textbook campaign for someone trying to survive tough political terrain.

Two Seats To Watch: In Florida’s 13th District, Republican Amanda Makki, a former congressional aide, raised $220,000 is less than a month in her quest to unseat Crist, a former Florida governor who at various times in his career has been a Republican, an independent and now a Democrat. In North Carolina’s 2nd District, in and around Raleigh, Democrat Scott Cooper, a Marine Corps veteran, has raised more than $300,000 in his challenge against Republican incumbent George Holding for a seat that could be the top pick-up prospect for Democrats in the Tar Heel State next year.

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Texas U.S. Rep. Will Hurd is only Southern Republican to support condemning Trump

5 Southern Democrats from Trump districts voted to condemn his tweets about Democratic congresswomen

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — After a day of high drama and contentious debate, the U.S. House approved a resolution condemning President Donald Trump for “racist” tweets directed at four left-wing congresswomen with only a single Southern Republican — U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas — voting in favor.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

Ninety-four other Southern House Republicans voted against the resolution, which was supported by all 50 Southern House Democrats in the July 16 vote, including five members who represent districts Trump carried in 2016.

Those five members are Lucy McBath from Georgia, Kendra Horn from Oklahoma, Joe Cunningham from South Carolina, and Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria from Virginia.

Five Republicans from Texas — Kay Granger, Louie Gohmert, Roger Williams, Kenny Marchant and Michael Burgess — did not vote on the resolution. They also did not participate in other roll call votes held the same day.

The floor fight over the resolution was led on the GOP side by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, who set off two hours of turmoil after objecting to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling Trump’s tweets “racist,” which he said violated House rules against offering personal criticism of the president.

After lengthy discussions between members and the chamber’s parliamentarians, the chair eventually ruled Pelosi’s comments out of order, but members, on a party-line vote, overturned that ruling.

Trump, who denied his criticism of the congresswomen was racist, had urged Republican members not to show “weakness” in supporting the resolution. In the end, only four Republicans broke ranks to support it.

The resolution said the House “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color by saying that our fellow Americans who are immigrants, and those who may look to the President like immigrants, should ‘go back’ to other countries.”

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that a group of Democratic congresswomen should “go back” to their home countries if they were dissatisfied with life in America.

While he did not single out anyone by name, the tweets appeared to be a reference to four female members from the party’s left wing who have been among his sharpest critics — Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Of the four, only Omar, who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia as a child, was not born in the United States. All four are U.S. citizens, which is a requirement to sit in Congress.

Critics attributed what they see as Trump’s racist intent to make-up of the group, dubbed The Squad. Omar and Pressley are black, Ocasio-Cortez is Latino, and Tlaib is of Palestinian descent.

Hurd represents a majority-Latino swing district in West Texas. He is the only Southern Republican in Congress who represents a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016 and is among the top targets for House Democrats next year.

In an interview with PBS, Hurd called the president’s tweets “racist and xenophobic” and “also inaccurate.”

“The four women he is referring to are actually citizens of the United States, three of the four were born here. It’s also a behavior that’s unbecoming of the leader of the free world,” Hurd said. “He should be talking about things that unite us, not divide us. And also, I think, politically, it doesn’t help.”

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Will South Carolina’s Mark Sanford pull the trigger on a 2020 primary challenge to President Trump?

Former governor and congressman tells Charleston newspaper he’s considering a run

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CFP) — Last summer, President Donald Trump reacted with some glee after helping take out then-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, who went down to defeat in his Lowcountry district to a GOP primary challenger whom Trump endorsed.

Mark Sanford

Now, Sanford is considering trying to once again resurrect his political career — with a long-shot challenge to Trump himself for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020.

“Sometimes in life you’ve got to say what you’ve got to say, whether there’s an audience or not for that message,” Sanford said in an interview with the Post and Courier newspaper, where he teased his intentions. “I feel convicted.”

Sanford said the GOP “has lost its way on debt, spending and financial matters,” issues that he said would be central to his campaign. He told the newspaper that he expects to decide within the next month whether to join the race against Trump.

But even the possibility of a Sanford challenge to Trump set off the state’s Republican Party chairman, Drew McKissick, who released a statement saying “the last time Mark Sanford had an idea this dumb, it killed his Governorship. This makes about as much sense as that trip up the Appalachian Trail.”

The state Democratic Party took a more light-hearted tone, tweeting: “We look forward to seeing mark [sic] on the trail! Always nice to see a candidate with fewer extra marital affairs than the president.”

In 2009, Sanford, then the Palmetto State’s governor, touched off a messy personal scandal when he disappeared from public view after telling reporters that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, when he was actually off canoodling with his Argentinian mistress.

He refused calls to resign and served out the rest of his term, then, in 2013, resurrected his political career by winning a special election in the 1st U.S. House District.

After Trump was elected in 2016, Sanford became one of a very small number of congressional Republicans willing to criticize the president, calling his behavior in office “weird,” criticizing his disparagement of Haiti and countries in Africa and calling his policy of imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum “an experiment with stupidity.”

Trump got his revenge in 2018 when State Rep. Katie Arrington defeated Sanford in the Republican primary, after getting a well-timed Twitter endorsement from the president on election day. However, the victory proved somewhat pyrrhic when Arrrington lost the seat to Democrat Joe Cunningham in November.

Sanford, 59, served a total of 13 years during his two stints in Congress and eight years as governor. He told the Post and Courier that if he doesn’t run against Trump, he won’t try to reclaim his former seat in Congress against Cunningham but might try to start a think tank focused on deficit issues.

The only Republican challenging Trump in 2020 so far is former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who comes from the party’s moderate wing, unlike Sanford, who carved out a conservative record in Congress and as governor.

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Democrats’ 2020 White House roadshow descends on South Carolina

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.

Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses South Carolina Democrats (From MSNBC)

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?”

The two Southerners in the Democratic field — former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro — were among the candidates who spoke Saturday.

Beto O’Rourke goes down in the crowd to deliver remarks (From MSNBC)

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.”

The breakout performances of the day among the candidates at the back of the pack came from U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

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.

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