Politics & Government

2020 Democrats will make pitches to black SC voters Saturday. Here’s what to expect

Curbing minority incarceration. Making homes affordable. Increasing opportunities for black entrepreneurs and closing the wealth gap.

These are the promises 2020 Democrats campaigning to black voters in Charleston on Saturday are expected to pitch.

In a forum hosted by the Black Economic Alliance, a national political group of black business leaders, four candidates — U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. — will share the same stage in South Carolina, the South’s first primary state.

It also will be a test for Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Warren — who are white — to show how well they can connect to black voters. The candidates, at times, have been criticized for a lack of diversity at their stops, particularly in South Carolina.

Journalist Soledad O’Brien will moderate the forum at the Charleston Music Hall, set to broadcast on BET at 10 a.m. Sunday.

“I’m looking to hear the candidates’ depth in understanding of the plight of African Americans and the wealth gap in South Carolina,” said state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, who will attend the forum. “This is the most important topic that should be addressed, not only in the state of South Carolina, but nationally.”

Candidates will make pitch to minorities

Already on the campaign trail, the candidates have been rolling out policy pitches aimed at appealing to African Americans.

Expect Booker — the forum’s only black candidate — to talk about closing the racial wealth gap, expanding access to capital investment and accelerating black-owned business development and growth, his campaign told The State.

On Saturday, Booker is sure to mention the “Rise Credit,” his proposal to expand earned income tax credits for low wage earners, and his proposal to give every person a “baby bond” for young adults to use to help pay for educational and career opportunities.

On stage, Buttigieg will likely highlight his new “Douglass Plan” — named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass — which calls for reducing the number of African Americans that are incarcerated and bolstering black entrepreneurship, NBC News reported this week.

As president, Buttigieg said he would increase the federal government’s contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses and work to ban voter identification laws that critics argue have worsened minority turnout at the ballot box.

O’Rourke is expected to talk about economic gaps, specifically pay disparities for black women, and challenges African Americans face to find well-paying jobs or the investment needed to start a business. At a Rock Hill stop in March, O’Rourke said he would end the war on drugs, which he said targets people of color, and would work to expunge criminal records of Americans arrested for marijuana possession.

And Warren will publicly announce her proposed $7 billion grant program that would create a small business equity fund to help minority entrepreneurs, her campaign said. The cost would be covered by Warren’s “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” proposal that would enact a tax of 2 cents on every dollar on households with a net worth of $50 million or more.

Warren also will talk about tackling the problems of maternal mortality, lack of access to childcare and lack of availability of affordable housing. The home-ownership gap has been “caused in large part by decades of government-sanctioned discrimination,” she wrote in a piece for the National Urban League’s State of Black America report.

Four participants are underdogs in the race

The forum also gives the candidates an opportunity to win supporters in a crowded field of candidates.

Of the four, Booker and Warren are prominent U.S. senators with national profiles already. But those profiles have not paid off yet, according to polls, which show both candidates both polling in the single digits in South Carolina.

Buttigieg, the only openly gay candidate in the race, and O’Rourke, the former congressman who narrowly lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, both entered the race to fanfare and the magazine-cover level hype. But both have struggled to gain steam in South Carolina polls, the last one taken in early May.

None of the four 2020 Democratic hopefuls appearing in the weekend forum are leading early polls, both nationally and in state.

A new poll commissioned by the Black Economic Alliance — the same group hosting the forum — says black voters nationally are more enthusiastic about former Vice President Joe Biden’s bid for president. The poll surveyed 1,003 black registered voters by phone and online from May 17-28.

The poll found 76% of black Democrats are enthusiastic about Biden’s bid, compared with about 17% who answered they had reservations with former vice president. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont came in second, and U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Booker got enthusiastic responses from 53% and 43% of the poll’s respondents, respectively.

For Booker, Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Warren, Saturday’s forum will be a test-drive for a week later, when they and several other 2020 hopefuls converge in South Carolina to campaign.

The S.C. Democratic Party meets next weekend for its annual banquet and convention. Events kick off Friday, June 20, with U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s annual Fish Fry in Columbia, where 19 Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination are expected to come together. They also will stump at the S.C. Democratic Party Convention on Saturday.

Eleven candidates will speak that same day at a Planned Parenthood forum.

Follow more of our reporting on First in the South

See all 10 stories
Related stories from The State in Columbia SC

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.