Assessing The Democratic Presidential Field From South Carolina
SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:
More Democrats have piled into the 2020 presidential race. Representative Eric Swalwell announced this past Monday. Cory Booker made it official yesterday. And Mayor Pete Buttigieg plans an announcement later today. Almost 20 people are scrambling for momentum in a crowded field. And while Iowa and New Hampshire have received outsized attention as the earliest presidential contests, South Carolina is a pivotal early state for candidates. It's the first state contest with a sizable African-American voting bloc. And black voters are expected to cast the majority of votes in the Democratic primary. It's early, but we asked Jaime Harrison, who's getting voters excited in South Carolina? He's exploring a run against Senator Lindsey Graham in 2020. And he's a former party chair and longtime Democratic politico.
JAIME HARRISON: Nobody has decided that they're married to anybody as of yet. And that's because the field is not set yet. You know, you got folks that are still out there, like Joe Biden, who has a long history in South Carolina. But right now there's a lot of energy for a lot of candidates. But I would say in particular right now there's a lot of buzz about Cory Booker - Senator Cory Booker, Senator Kamala Harris. And we're seeing growing buzz with Pete Buttigieg. And again, you know, as folks come into the state and start to build out their operations, I think we'll see a number of shifts over the course of the next few months.
PFEIFFER: What are the issues that you think will resonate most with South Carolina voters?
HARRISON: Well, the first thing is - and the issues part is a really, really important thing. You know, right now in South Carolina we are a state where the Republicans have refused to expand Medicaid, where 300,000 people could be covered by health care right now. And as a result, they're not. So health care is a big issue. Education is a big issue. The quality of schools - South Carolina, in our constitution, has that all that the state is obligated to provide is a minimally adequate education. That's what's in our constitution. And so therefore, you see these disparities in terms of education in rural communities and in communities of color. It's something that Jim Clyburn, who is the majority whip and our highest ranking Democrat in the state, and myself as a candidate for the United States Senate is - we're going to focus on, and we're going to ask the candidates to focus on as they come here to South Carolina as well.
PFEIFFER: Do you see generational differences mattering in this election, particularly in terms of what it would take to get younger voters to the polls?
HARRISON: Well, I do see some generational differences. And we saw those in the '16 cycle as well. You know, you take, for instance, the issue of the crime bill. That was a big issue between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. You know, crime during the '80s and '90s was just seen very differently, you know, by these young - by the younger generations now - millennials and younger - as opposed to older generations that were going through that period in time and saw all of the impact that drugs was having on their communities. And I think on those type of issues, there will be some generational differences. You even see it on the issue like reparations. You're seeing some generational differences in terms of how older African-Americans look at the issue and how younger generations of African-Americans are approaching the issue. But, you know, just based on who has voted in the past, we know that African-American women are the highest performing demographic not only in South Carolina but across the nation and will really play a dominant role in determining who the nominee is coming out of South Carolina.
PFEIFFER: Right now the frontrunner in polling is believed to be Bernie Sanders. This is an older candidate. This is a candidate who, obviously, has a big generational divide with younger voters. Anything in particular you think Sanders would need to do to appeal to black voters in South Carolina?
HARRISON: Listen. You know, Bernie Sanders has gone through this presidential primary before. And he understands what's at stake and what he has to do in order to appeal to folks that he wasn't able to convince the last time around. And I've seen some changes in terms of how he's addressing the issues. It's not just about economic inequalities but also addressing some of the racial disparities that come along with it. And that is a marked shift in the Bernie Sanders that I saw in 2016.
PFEIFFER: That's Jaime Harrison. He's associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
Jaime, thank you.
HARRISON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.