James Smith celebrates with supporters after winning SC Democratic primary for governor
State Rep. James Smith, the Democratic candidate for governor, took his campaign to the Upstate on Wednesday and will do it again Saturday.
Upstate Democrats say they are eager to turn the region — known as a hotbed of conservatism — into a competitive playing field for progressives.
"There's already a lot of energy here," Kate Franch, chair of the Greenville County Democratic Party, said Tuesday.
Smith's stop Wednesday in Spartanburg County was about more than just turning out progressive Democrats to vote in November. It also was a chance to show S.C. voters that recent staff changes have not disrupted Smith's campaign and prove the Smith-Mandy Powers Norrell ticket can appeal to blue-collar workers, many of whom voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, observers said.
"Those are your potential voters," said York Technical College political scientist Rick Whisonant. "You want to be there again and again."
Smith and his running mate state Rep. Norrell of Lancaster stopped in Greer on Wednesday, near German automaker BMW Manufacturing and its suppliers, to rail against President Donald Trump's trade policies.
In particular, the U.S. automotive industry — which has a large footprint in South Carolina — is sensitive to the threat of trade wars with U.S. allies and China, which recently imposed an added 25 percent charge on U.S. cars entering that country.
BMW says it still plans to add another 1,000 S.C. jobs, bringing its Greer plant to 10,000 employees. However, Smith and Norrell said Wednesday they will stand up to Trump's "job-killing trade policies that will be devastating to South Carolina families."
Meanwhile, with the help of the Democratic Governors Association, the Smith campaign still is looking for a campaign manager after parting ways with Mike McCauley, Smith's third campaign manager. (Last week, the campaign signed on a new spokesperson and social media manager.)
"We're working with James Smith's campaign — like all of our candidates — to build up a strong team for the general election," said DGA spokesman Jared Leopold.
To win in November against Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, observers say Smith needs to ensure his ground game in all 46 counties is near perfect and to continue building relationships with moderate voters — like he was trying to do Wednesday in Spartanburg.
Winning over those moderates will be key if Smith is to be competitive in November.
"I just don't see how you win as a Democrat running statewide with a progressive, left-wing campaign in South Carolina," said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts. "I just don't see how that's going to work."