Your calendar says it’s 2019, but the nature of South Carolina politics will make this year feel a lot like 2020.
Later this month, a host of Democratic presidential candidates will begin a yearong campaign for votes in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary, scheduled for February 2020.
Several potential candidates have already made stops in South Carolina before last year’s midterm election. And new faces continue to enter the race. Even before 2018 ended, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts threw her hat into the ring, announcing an exploratory committee on Monday.
The increased national attention already is affecting how S.C. Democrats plan this year’s party events.
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“It adds a lot more work to the state convention and dinner,” said state party chairman Trav Robertson. “We have to plan for more people to come in, and make sure the candidates are treated well.”
Potential 2020 candidates will begin making appearances over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is confirmed as a speaker for the S.C. NAACP’s annual King Day at the Dome rally at the State House on Jan. 21. NAACP spokeswoman Mamie Hartwell said this week other potential candidates might also speak at the event.
“Most candidates understand the African-American vote is their top priority,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in Columbia. “With that many candidates in the race, you want to see who’s fastest to lay the groundwork.”
Possible 2020 contenders also could make appearances at S.C. Democrats’ Blue Palmetto dinner May 10 and state convention on May 11. Both events would give candidates a chance to meet potential voters, donors and volunteers from across the state.
Jim Thompson, chairman of the York County Democratic Party, said local parties are trying to coordinate their events to give visiting candidates the chance to visit as many as possible.
“Much like Iowa and New Hampshire, people expect to have face-to-face interaction with candidates,” Thompson said.
The Democratic National Committee has scheduled a string of candidate debates starting in June 2019, but South Carolina and the other early states — Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire — won’t host one until early 2020, just ahead of their primaries.
Meanwhile, Republicans are planning counter measures. State GOP chairman Drew McKissick said he will focus on organizing and fundraising so Republicans in 2020 can reverse a Democratic congressional win in the state’s 1st District and reclaim two State House seats that went from red to blue in 2018.
McKissick said there would be plenty of opportunities to “shine a spotlight on the radical, pseudo-socialist element” in the Democratic field.
“They’re all three shades away from being socialists,” McKissick said of the potential candidates. “They’re all far away from the mainstream of voters in this state.””
Some potential 2020 candidates have already dipped their toes in South Carolina’s political waters recently.
▪ Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned in Charleston in October for James Smith, the Democratic candidate for governor, and appeared in a commercial for former state party chair Dick Harpootlian’s state Senate campaign.
▪ Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the runner-up to Hillary Clinton in 2016, headlined a “Medicare for all” rally in Columbia two weeks before November’s election.
▪ Freshman California Sen. Kamala Harris made two S.C. stops in a single day last October. She appeared in Greenville early on Oct. 19 before stumping in Hopkins later that day.
▪ The day before, Booker spoke to students at Columbia’s Allen University. The same day, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke across the street at Benedict College as well as a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn.
▪ Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, spoke to the Charleston County chapter of the NAACP the Friday before Election Day.
Lesser-known Democrats have shown up in South Carolina, too.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film actress and alleged Trump mistress Stormy Daniels, appeared at S.C. fundraisers and met with local Democrats in October. He has since said he will not run for president.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti visited South Carolina in February and returned in September. And both Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and California Congressman Eric Swalwell campaigned with Democratic candidates ahead of Election Day.