Politics & Government

Democrat Kamala Harris makes first SC stop since announcing 2020 presidential run

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris returns to Columbia

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris gave brief remarks during the 37th Annual Pink Ice Gala in the Catney Building of the South Carolina State Fairgrounds Friday Jan. 25, 2019, in Columbia, SC.
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U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris gave brief remarks during the 37th Annual Pink Ice Gala in the Catney Building of the South Carolina State Fairgrounds Friday Jan. 25, 2019, in Columbia, SC.

The thousands of South Carolinians who helped propel Barack Obama to the White House in 2008 returned the welcome to U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris Friday night in her first S.C. visit since she declared a run for president in 2020.

“We are all here because of those who came before us,” Harris said in her brief remarks Friday, surrounded by a sold-out crowd of 3,000, and their phones, at the Gamma Nu Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Pink Ice Gala in Columbia. “Our founders gave us the right charge. They said stand together, take care of each other and serve your country as leaders.“

The California Democrat is no stranger to South Carolina.

Ahead of the midterm elections last year, Harris stumped in Greenville County and Lower Richland, where she was treated to mentions of “madam president” and swallowed by the audience after her remarks hoping to get a photo with the senator.

But Harris’ Columbia stop caps off a busy week for South Carolina, which, as of Friday, rolled out the welcome mat for four 2020 Democratic hopefuls — all U.S. senators. Monday, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. participated in the King Day at the Dome, an annual march from Zion Baptist Church to the State House that helps kicks off the state’s presidential primary season.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke at Columbia College on Wednesday, using her first S.C. stop to appeal to middle-class voters. Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. senator from New York who declared her candidacy, is slated to make her first S.C. visit next month.

“As I’ve said before, the road to the White House slams through South Carolina,” said S.C.-based Democratic operative Antjuan Seawright. “South Carolina will serve as the political filling station on that long journey to take back 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

South Carolina not only has its place in history as the first-in-the-south vote. It also serves as a key battleground state for candidates hoping to win over the state’s powerful African-American vote, roughly 60 percent of the state’s Democratic voting bloc.

Harris pledged AKA while a college student at Howard University, making her attendance at the annual event Friday an invitation of no mistake, observers noted. But, maybe more notably, it drew a quick reaction from the Republican National Committee, blasting the senator’s visit moments before she took the stage.

“Senator Kamala Harris is running to turn back the progress made over the last two years” said RNC spokeswoman Mandi Merritt. “Senator Harris will have a hard time convincing South Carolinians to revert to the failed policies of the past.”

But Harris’ stances on policy, from health care to education and wage equity, are not turning away every S.C. voter.

State Rep. Chandra Dillard, D-Greenville, said she has not decided who she will vote for ahead of the state’s primary. But, she added, she is pleased so far with the senator’s policy positions.

“She is just a delightful person, and I appreciate her journey,” said Dillard, an AKA chapter sister, who met Harris back in October. ”There’s a lot of people that can identify with her journey. She’s (got) an inspirational personality, and, Lord knows given the climate, we need inspiration. We need positivity and we need a can-do spirit.”

Dillard said the excitement brewing around Harris draws close reminders to 2008.

“She is going to have a sisterhood in all 50 states and abroad. We should be, and can be, the secret weapon.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.