Imagine: Democrats in both Iowa and New Hampshire pick U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders as their presidential nominee – a possibility, according to recent polls.
Wins by Sanders in those two states then shift the tide in South Carolina’s Feb. 27 Democratic nominating contest.
It could happen. (Or so the theory goes.)
According to polls, Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite in South Carolina, particularly among African-American voters who will cast more than half the votes in the state’s Democratic primary. But those polls are dated – more than a month old – and in the interim, Bernie-mentum has been growing.
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The Buzz asked several S.C. African-American leaders whether S.C. Democrats will “feel the Bern” if Sanders pulls off wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states whose nominating contests are before South Carolina’s.
Here’s what they said:
▪ “I’ve talked to a couple of his folks,” the Rev. Joseph Darby, presiding elder of the 33 churches in the AME Church’s Beaufort District, said of the Sanders campaign. “It hasn’t really generated the kind of excitement that he’s generated outside the African-American community.”
Sanders could gain ground with black voters, Darby added.
But, to do so, Sanders must show he “understands that not all concerns can be healed by economic action – if he acknowledges the fact that even if (college) tuition is free and things are done to create jobs, a lot of black folks still get looked over in the process.”
Looking to build a firewall in South Carolina to halt any Sanders momentum, Clinton has been courting African-Americans and faith leaders, Darby added.
“She spoke for the Charleston NAACP dinner. We had a nice chat. We got to sit together,” Darby recalled.
Clinton followed up with a letter to Darby. Knowing to do that is a sign of good outreach, he added. “She’s got the experience on how to do that.”
▪ The Rev. Merritt Graves of Mount AME Zion Church in Florence said “the climate in the upper Northeast is a lot different than the climate here in South Carolina,” meaning a Sanders win in New Hampshire, for example, likely would not mean he will win in South Carolina.
Sanders is “making inroads with the younger college-aged students, but many of them don’t vote,” Graves said. “I’m not sure that, really, he has enough time to do what he would like to do between now and the primary.”
▪ Columbia’s Bree Maxwell, president of the Young Democrats of South Carolina and a Sanders supporter, said the U.S. senator from Vermont does need to work on church outreach in the African-American community: “In the black community, people look up to the black pastor, and what the black pastor says, is usually what goes,” she said.
But Sanders is excelling in outreach to millennials and students at historically black colleges and universities, Maxwell said.
▪ State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, says Sanders also has been courting progressive Democrats and the state’s small organized labor community.
Sanders might get a boost from working-class white voters, who usually vote Republican, she said. His challenge, she added, will be to get those voters to “hold their nose” and vote in the Democratic primary.
To reach African-American voters, Sanders has been using grassroots efforts and sending out surrogates to campaign for the senator. Though Sanders likely is out of time to win over the majority of black voters, he might be able to “carve off a piece of the black vote,” Cobb-Hunter said.
While the black church is powerful, “The black community is not a monolith,” cautioned Cobb-Hunter, who has not endorsed a candidate. “They talk about ‘feel the Bern’ – he needs to convert his message so that people of color can feel the Bern.”
The governor’s ethics ‘Hail Mary’
In her sixth annual State-of-the-State address, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley applauded how South Carolinians came together in the wake of the Emanuel AME Church shooting to bring down the Confederate flag. She highlighted the lives of the victims and the forgiveness their families showed in the days following the Charleston massacre.
“It is my fervent wish that, in this year, we, as the representatives of those people, act in a manner that is worthy of that greatness,” Haley appealed to lawmakers.
Haley’s message was one of unity.
Then, Haley – unhappy the state Senate has failed to pass House-passed ethics reform proposals – went off script, asking senators to stand up if they supported changes to the state’s ethics laws, including independent review of allegations against lawmakers, who now investigate themselves.
About a third of the chamber’s 46 senators stood up, including Haley ally Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who has attempted to shepherd the ethics bills through the upper chamber.
“Ladies and gentleman, we finally got to see what that vote might look like,” Haley said, adding, “I hope that this will be the last year we talk about ethics reform.”
Not everyone was pleased with the Republican governor’s move.
“Talk about independent review. Is that what she went through?” state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, railed Thursday from the Senate well, referring to the 2012 investigation into ethics allegations against Haley, who was cleared by the majority-GOP House Ethics Committee.
There’s also the question of how many senators heard Haley’s show-of-support request.
“I don’t want to suggest that we have a lot of folks that are hard of hearing,” Martin said afterward. “We could follow what she was saying, because we had a copy of the speech.
“But, when she deviated from the script, I’m not sure some of our older members heard what she said. The acoustics on our side of the chamber were terrible.
“Man, it was awfully hard to hear.”
▪ Mulvaney returns to the S.C. Senate. It isn’t often that a U.S. congressman testifies at the State House. But at 9 a.m. Wednesday (weather permitting), U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, will testify before the Senate General Committee about refugees. The committee is considering two related pieces of legislation aimed at restricting refugee resettlement in South Carolina.
▪ A not-so-red state? According to the S.C. Club for Growth Foundation, South Carolina is not as conservative as it should be. Seventy percent of S.C. lawmakers failed the limited-government group’s “conservative” test.
In report cards issued Thursday, 119 of the state’s 170 legislators failed to vote in concert with the club’s agenda, which included upholding gubernatorial vetoes, supporting ethics reforms and shelving the Confederate flag.
Only five S.C. Republican lawmakers received perfect scores: House Rep. Garry Smith of Greenville, and Sens. Ross Turner and Mike Fair of Greenville, Paul Thurmond of Charleston and Tom Young of Aiken. Thirteen more lawmakers received a “B.” (Go to thestate.com, and you can see how your representatives and senators performed, according to the group, by following the links in this story.)
▪ The fittest of them all. Stairwells at the State House might be a bit crowded this session. About 100 S.C. lawmakers and state officials will be outfitted with Fitbit activity trackers in hopes of making the State House a healthier place – physically, that is.
State Rep. Neal Collins, R-Pickens, has joined efforts with the S.C. Hospital Association and YMCAs across the state to drive the effort. The lawmakers’ progress will be announced at the end of the legislative session.
2016 in S.C.
Donald Trump: The GOP presidential front-runner will hold a Lexington County rally at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Harmon Tree Farm in Gilbert, 3152 Augusta Road.