South Carolina Will Be The First Test Of 2020 Democrats In The South

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(Gaines Halford/SCETV)
(Gaines Halford/SCETV)

Check out more photos from our trip to South Carolina and live taping here.

On Point Live! travels to South Carolina to hear what’s on the minds of voters in the Palmetto State.


Gavin Jackson, reporter and host of South Carolina ETV’s public affairs show "The Week in South Carolina" and the "South Carolina Lede" podcast. (@GavinJackson)

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Democratic state representative for District 66 in Orangeburg County, a position she’s held for the past 27 years. President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. Superdelegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Social worker and CEO of CASA Family Systems. (@GCobbHunter)

Rev. Tiffany Knowlin Boykin, pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church in downtown Columbia, South Carolina.

Matt Moore, former South Carolina Republican Party chairman from 2013 to 2017. Partner at the political and grassroots strategy firm First Tuesday Strategies. (@MattMooreSC)

Interview Highlights

On what South Carolina polls say about the presidential race

Gavin Jackson: "I think in the past … we haven't gotten enough attention. I think, also, we have such a huge field this time around, people are pretty excited about it. They're turning out more, they're motivated by the Trump White House, and what they're seeing happening in Washington. So, we are seeing plenty of candidates come out. But, it's interesting to note, that we have a lot of these candidates — like Sen. Cory Booker, like Sen. Kamala Harris, Marianne Williamson — all these other candidates that have made big pushes here in South Carolina. [These candidates] kind of visited a lot, but they're not registering in the polls, like people like Joe Biden are, or like Elizabeth Warren. So, it's interesting to note that just because you visit a lot, doesn't necessarily mean you're going to translate into moving up in the polls."

Matt Moore: "We polled races — across the state — and did some polling last week, in about 10 different Senate districts in the state, for Republican candidates. And the president is 90% popular in all of those places. There might be some sort of grievance votes cast in certain places. But, I would say those folks have either gone away to be independents now. Or, they care about small issues, and don't have much disagreement with the party, but might have it with Trump in general."

On the issues that matter to voters in South Carolina

Gavin Jackson: "I was up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, for Elizabeth Warren's rally. And it's the first rally she's had in some 40 days — which is surprising — considering she's No. 2 ranked in the polls here in South Carolina. It’s surprising to see she hasn't turned out as much, considering that attention. But, I think she's getting the note. I think she's pushing that. But, I talked to a woman who was just out of work, who was laid off, and her big concern is, 'How do I get health care?' And she's friends with people who are in the service industry, who don't have health care, either. It’s this need for wanting to get a better health care system in America, and prescription drug prices. And then I talked to another gentleman, who is a Republican — who voted Republican — who is now on the fence, looking at Elizabeth Warren. Because he thinks she’s electable, unless she starts talking about 'Medicare for All,' which is a turnoff for him. And, he thinks it's a turnoff for a lot of moderates that might cross over, and vote for someone like her. So, it's interesting to see that dynamic. But health care is definitely the No. 1 issue for people."

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter: “I would ditto Gavin's point about health care, the high cost of prescription drugs. That's something that cuts across the board. I would also add that if we're talking communities of color, I have a lot of constituents who are concerned, quite frankly. And [they're] afraid — given the level of violence in communities. There is a lot of interest in having candidates talk about what they would do — if they became president — to heal this country, to deal with the divisions, and all of those kinds of things. And, of course, the notion of whether you're better off now, that age-old standard, 'Are you better off now than you were before?' There are a lot of people who would respond to that and say, ‘Well, no. You know, I'm a lot worse off.'

"And, so, when you hear, on one hand, the point about how great the economy is, how low unemployment is across all sectors … there are folks, every day, who say, 'You know, I don't see that. I don't feel that.' And, so, there are a lot of people who are concerned about just surviving. Not just surviving, but thriving. And, so, issues of poverty, issues of race. All of the '-isms,' are issues that cut across all communities. And, quite frankly, not a lot of the candidates are speaking to those kinds of issues. Everybody is talking about health care. 'Medicare for All,' or whatever. But, very few of the candidates, for example, that I've heard, are talking about poverty. How do you make it so that the reality that some people are experiencing — as far as a good job with benefits — how do we make this country work in such a way that that cuts across to all corners?"

"There is a lot of interest in having candidates talk about what they would do ⁠— if they became president ⁠— to heal this country, to deal with the divisions."

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter

Rev. Tiffany Knowlin Boykin: "I think in our congregation, there are lots of issues that matter, as was stated earlier. People are very concerned about health care, prescription drugs. People are concerned about gun violence, criminal justice reform. I've heard a lot of people talk about that. I've heard people talk about — really, one of the big issues that I think that people are most concerned about — are race relations in this country, and the great divide that there [is]. … I mean, even folks [that] may be in their 70s, who have said they have felt like race relations in this country are just about as bad as they were when integration began. And I was like, 'Wow.'

"And then I've had young adults in my congregation — I have one young adult that I'm thinking about in particular — who actually happens to be in a relationship that is across racial bounds. And [she’s] very concerned, just very concerned, about stares. Very concerned about what people say, what they don't say. This person is in a little bit more of a rural area of South Carolina, they're concerned about Confederate flags that are everywhere when they go out. Those kinds of things. But, really race relations at the divide, those kinds of discrimination issues. I think that's really big. And, like I said, a lot of those other issues, they're there. They're going to be there. The inequity, in regards to wages, gun violence, race relations, health care and all those things that people are concerned about."

On what Republican voters in South Carolina think of President Trump

Matt Moore: "I would say the vast majority of Republicans in South Carolina don't agree that Trump is the most beloved president for conservatives that we've seen in recent history. … But, I think what the base Republican voter in South Carolina likes most, is that Trump is keeping his promises that he made in the campaign. And, they feel as though he's fighting for them. That's what we hear the most when we do focus groups, and do polling, is that Trump is fighting. We might [not] agree with the style — or what he's done in the past, or his personal life — but, he's fighting."

Web Extra: Faith And Politics In South Carolina

We couldn't fit all of our conversation from South Carolina into the broadcast on air, so here's some bonus content from our roundtable.

How closely are faith and politics intertwined in South Carolina?

Rev. Tiffany Knowlin Boykin: "I think that they are greatly intertwined. I think, particularly, what has been something that has always been a part of the, historically, the African American experience, or the black church, and I serve a historically black church — just celebrated 150 years of existence the weekend before last — I think that there is no there is no separation of, 'Well, I'm this way at church, and this with my job, and I'm this way when I'm in the grocery store.' Who I am is who I am, and that faith is just an integral part. So there is no compartmentalization of life. All of life is holy, all of life is sacred, wherever I am. So I think that that's a huge piece of how people even approach going in the voting booth. They're approaching it thinking, 'I'm not not a Christian when I go in there. I'm a Christian whenever and wherever it is that I happen to be, and I think that that's the sentiment that people seek to try to take with them wherever they are."

Matt Moore: "I think what's really changed the past 30 years or so — there was the Moral Majority in the '90s that existed sort of independently of the political party movement. What happened for the first time in 2016, I think a lot of faith leaders, particularly on the right, decided that that wall had fallen and were effectively a vehicle for the Republican Party in the 2016 election. I mean in 2015, Franklin Graham came here to the to the statehouse steps and did, basically, a conservative political rally under the guise of being a traditional religious rally, which was sort of a thing no one had ever seen here before. So the Republican Party, now, is certainly in lockstep with the evangelical movement and that will continue, I think going way forward.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter: "I just find it so interesting that Barack Obama was a man happily married for all those years he was happily married, father of two daughters, no drama, no baby mamas, none of that stuff. And he was the Antichrist to some in the faith community.

"You've got Donald Trump who's been married three times, he's got children by several different women, and, you know, this notion of 'Two Corinthians walk into a bar' kind of thing, and yet he is the one chosen by God. I'm just amazed at the faith community and how they choose who is — it reminds me of this notion of family values, when we used to debate that so much in the legislature. I would just ask my colleagues, whose family and whose values? Because, quite frankly, that question speaks volumes about whose family you're talking about and what kind of values you're talking about. It's like, 'I like your Christ. It's your Christians who give me pause.' "

Rev. Knowlin Boykin: "I'm pretty baffled. I feel like, at times, the Christian right has kind of controlled the narrative, the faith narrative, in this community, when there are a lot of people who are Christians who would veer toward the left, and that there is an alternative perspective, an alternative opinion that is very much so based in 'what you do for the least of these, you've done for me.' "

From The Reading List

Washington Post: "Southern black mayors to 2020 Democratic hopefuls: Don’t overlook us" — "Four African American mayors from cities in the South are sending a clear warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls: Don’t forget about us.

"The Democratic mayors of New Orleans; Columbia, S.C.; Jackson, Miss.; and Birmingham, Ala.; have signed a letter telling candidates that if they want a chance at their endorsements, they will need to present detailed ideas responding to the challenges facing their constituents.

"'The Democratic nomination runs through our communities,' says the letter, which was shared with The Washington Post. 'And given the power that we wield in this primary process, we fully intend to use our influence and elevate the interests of our residents to ensure that your campaigns deliver a value proposition consistent with their distinct needs.'

"The effort comes amid widespread conversations in the party about how to win white, working-class voters in Upper Midwestern states that tipped the 2016 election to President Trump. It also comes amid a heavy focus on the first two Democratic primary states, Iowa and New Hampshire."


New York Times: "G.O.P. Plans to Drop Presidential Primaries in 4 States to Impede Trump Challengers" — "The Republican Parties in Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina intend to cancel the 2020 presidential primaries in their states, according to three people familiar with their plans, a move aimed at depriving President Trump’s long-shot challengers of chances to build support.

"The state parties have not formalized their decisions, but Mr. Trump’s challengers denounced the move. Joe Walsh, a former Tea Party congressman from Illinois who announced his candidacy last month, said he planned to fight the move legally and by appealing directly to voters in those states.

"'It’s something a mob boss would do,' Mr. Walsh said in an interview. 'All the times in 2016 when he said the Democrats were rigging the system to elect Hillary? He is actually eliminating elections in certain states, and that’s undemocratic.'

"William F. Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts who is also challenging Mr. Trump for the party’s nomination, said he found the move concerning but not surprising."

Washington Post: "Opinion: We are Trump’s Republican challengers. Canceling GOP primaries is a critical mistake." — "The three of us are running for the Republican nomination for president in a race that will inevitably highlight differences among us on matters of policy, style and background. But we are brought together not by what divides us but by what unites us: a shared conviction that the United States needs a strong center-right party guided by basic values that are rooted in the best of the American spirit.

"A president always defines his or her party, and today the Republican Party has taken a wrong turn, led by a serial self-promoter who has abandoned the bedrock principles of the GOP. In the Trump era, personal responsibility, fiscal sanity and rule of law have been overtaken by a preference for alienating our allies while embracing terrorists and dictators, attacking the free press and pitting everyday Americans against one another.

"No surprise, then, that the latest disgrace, courtesy of Team Trump, is an effort to eliminate any threats to the president’s political power in 2020. Republicans have long held primaries and caucuses to bring out the best our party has to offer. Our political system assumes an incumbent president will make his case in front of voters to prove that he or she deserves to be nominated for a second term. But now, the Republican parties of four states — Arizona, Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina — have canceled their nominating contests. By this design, the incumbent will be crowned winner of these states’ primary delegates. There is little confusion about who has been pushing for this outcome."

This program aired on October 7, 2019.


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Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.


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Anna Bauman is a producer and director at On Point.



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