Hillary Clinton held a town-hall meeting at an elementary school in rural Bamberg County on Friday, addressing a largely African-American crowd as she pledged to help blighted communities.
In the packed gymnasium of Denmark-Olar Elementary School, the Democratic presidential front-runner was surrounded by about 300 people, who asked about her plans for Social Security, how she will work to unite Congress and whether she can help them solve water-quality problems.
After races in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina is the first big test of the Democratic candidates’ appeal to their party’s diverse electorate.
The crowd at Friday’s town-hall meeting was mostly African-American, reflecting the voters who will cast more than half the ballots in the state’s Feb. 27 Democratic primary. Boosted by support from those black voters, Clinton leads U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders by nearly 30 percentage points in the state, according to an average of polls.
Invoking the names of President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, Clinton pitched pitch herself as a better candidate than Sanders, a Vermont independent who has not been to South Carolina since the Martin Luther King weekend.
“(Sanders) does not support, the way I do, building on the progress that the president has made, and that includes building on the Affordable Care Act,” Clinton said, winning loud applause as she said she would continue the legacy of Obama, the country’s first African-American president.
Clinton said her $125 billion plan to help blighted communities would be modeled in part after a plan that Clyburn has been pushing for years, targeting federal dollars to communities with persistently high poverty.
As the state’s sole Democrat in Congress, an endorsement from Clyburn, whose district includes Bamberg, would be a boon to Clinton.
The Columbia Democrat has said he would talk with his family over the weekend and decide whether to weigh in on the race. The political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus — an organization to which Clyburn belongs — already has endorsed Clinton.
Clinton also weighed in on the plight of South Carolina’s rural schools.
“Here in South Carolina, if you look at life through the eyes of a child, a lot of small towns and rural areas here, you would see crumbling schools, decrepit conditions,” said Clinton, calling the Legislature’s failure to address rundown rural schools “shameful.”
Former state Rep. Bakari Sellers, who once represented the area, was among the Clinton supporters at the town-hall meeting.
Sellers said Clinton’s visit “highlighted the fact that there (is) more than one Flint, Michigan. ... This is about back-breaking generational poverty.”
(After initially endorsing Clinton, state Rep. Justin Bamberg, Sellers’ successor at the State House, switched to Sanders.)
Ninety-four percent of the children who go to Denmark-Olar Elementary live in poverty, according to the school. The Bamberg school district was among more than 30 districts that sued the state 23 years ago, saying it did not have enough money to provide students with a good education.
In the elementary school’s gymnasium Friday, bullet holes formed spider-like patterns in windows near the ceiling. One of two bathroom stalls was out of order. The other did not lock.
“We’re just grateful it’s not raining today,” said Shannon Johnson, the school’s director of special education, of the gym’s water-stained roof.
Campaigning in SC
While they focus on other states, including Nevada’s Feb. 20 caucuses, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will have surrogates campaigning Saturday in South Carolina:
▪ President Bill Clinton will visit Francis Marion University in Florence at 7:30 p.m.
▪ Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will visit the Charleston campaign office at 9 a.m.; Jason George, of Grey’s Anatomy, will stop at the Columbia office at 2:30 p.m. and Jonez of Columbia at 6 p.m.
▪ Former NAACP president Ben Jealous will attend a “Labor for Bernie” round-table discussion at 2 p.m. at Tapp's Art Center in Columbia before going to a reception in Aiken at 6 p.m.
▪ Erica Garner — daughter of New Yorker Eric Garner, who died while in police custody — will attend a “Sisters for Bernie Breakfast” at 8 a.m. at Democratic Party headquarters in Columbia, a canvass launch at 3 p.m. at the Charleston field office, and a social-justice meet-and-greet at 5:30 p.m. in North Charleston.
▪ Saturday night, Sanders supporters are hosting a fundraiser called “HeartBERN/BERNtherave” at The Attic in Columbia’s Five Points. The event starts at 7 p.m. with guest speakers Cornel West, Adolph Reed Jr., and Nina Turner.