Undecided Voters Weigh Their Options Ahead Of South Carolina Primary

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Alphonso Brown is the owner of Gullah Tours in Charleston, South Carolina. (Alvin C. Jacobs for Here & Now)
Alphonso Brown is the owner of Gullah Tours in Charleston, South Carolina. (Alvin C. Jacobs for Here & Now)

From Charleston to Columbia, many voters in South Carolina remain undecided ahead of the state’s Democratic primary on Saturday.

Meet 74-year-old Alphonso Brown, the owner-operator of Gullah Tours. Gullah is a complex mix of African and American culture, and a preservation of language from slaves who were brought to Charleston.

For about 30 years, he’s been one of the only tour guides giving visitors a view of his home state through Gullah culture.

“They're all doing a little black history, but not exclusively [Gullah] like I am doing,” Brown says of his fellow Charleston tour guides.

Alphonso Brown is the owner of Gullah Tours in Charleston, South Carolina. (Alvin C. Jacobs for Here & Now)
Alphonso Brown is the owner of Gullah Tours in Charleston, South Carolina. (Alvin C. Jacobs for Here & Now)

Several presidential candidates have taken the tour over the years, he says. Just a few days ago, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg went for one.

Brown loves all of the political pageantry, he says. Voting is what he gets most excited about, since his mother and father — and their ancestors — didn’t have the right to vote.

In 2008, Barack Obama was a natural choice, Brown says. In 2016, he chose Hillary Clinton. But this time around, he says things feel a little more complicated.

In making his decision, Brown says he is thinking about his three sons and eight grandchildren. What do they need in a president? Which Democratic candidate will think about their futures and the future of the less fortunate?

“What I want from a candidate is what they can do for those who are not privileged, who are maybe less privileged,” he says. “If I vote for a candidate, I'll vote for what they can do for someone else.”

Up until this week, Brown was undecided. After South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, an influential Democrat in the state and congressman for nearly three decades, announced he was endorsing former Vice President Biden on Wednesday, Brown reached back out to say he had made a decision. He would back Biden, too.

Two hours north in the capital of Columbia, Toliver’s Mane Event barber shop is a place where ideas about life and politics are often discussed, barber Willie Evans says.

When asked about which candidate he trusts, Evans pauses before answering.

“I put it to you like this here, I trust Biden the most,” he says. “I trust none of them, but I trust Biden the most.”

Christopher Toliver in his barber shop. (Tonya Mosley/Here & Now)
Christopher Toliver in his barber shop. (Tonya Mosley/Here & Now)

Signs for businessman Tom Steyer and Buttigieg line the streets in Columbia. And you can’t turn on the TV without being inundated with political ads. There’s even quite a few Rep. Tulsi Gabbard ads, and some people walking around the city were wearing Sen. Elizabeth Warren buttons.

Christopher Toliver Sr., who owns the barber shop with his father, says all of his clients are like family. They either went to school or church together, or live near each other.  And without prompting, almost all of them talked about Biden.

In a way, Toliver says he credits Biden with helping to elect the first black president.

“I can remember watching TV in here, and it was two endorsements that gave me the idea that Barack Obama would become president of the United States,” he says. “And that would be Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has departed from us, and Joe Biden.”

And so for Toliver, supporting Biden is almost like thanking him for standing behind Obama. But that’s not the only reason he’s behind him.

“We feel like he's fought the good fight, and we want to be there for him now supporting him to become the president of the United States,” Toliver says. “We feel he's a good person.”

Biden has “fought the good fight” by trying to eliminate private prisons, as well as supporting a higher minimum wage and paid family sick leave, Toliver adds.

The fire around finding a candidate who can beat President Trump isn’t burning nearly as hot in South Carolina as it is in other parts of the country. Evans says he actually doesn’t think Trump is a bad president.

“I don't dislike him or like him,” he says. “I like the fact that there's a lot more jobs on the street now. But I also don't like him because of his views on women and his views on race.”

And even though most respect Biden, not everyone who comes into the shop says they will be voting for him. Toliver’s wife is eyeing Steyer, and Toliver says his younger clients have voiced support for other candidates, particularly Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Younger people, which they have a right to feel this way, to me don't know the history of what Joe Biden has meant to the African American community for standing up for civil rights,” he says. “So when they look at, let's say a Bernie Sanders, they see a man that wants to give away, let's say, free education or wants to have free health care.”

Tolliver says there is a disconnect between the older and younger generation when it comes to some of Sanders’ policies, such as free education, which he is against.

“The older generation, we're more conservative,” he says. “So what we're asking for is just a fair shake. And we'll go out here and work to get what we need as far as in society. We don't want to have a handout.”

Ciku Theuri and Tonya Mosley produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt and Francesca Paris. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on February 28, 2020.


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Tonya Mosley Correspondent, Here & Now
Tonya Mosley was the LA-based co-host of Here & Now.



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