2020 candidates SCDP minus two

Fourteen of the Democrats running for president in 2020 will be speaking at the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention on June 22. This collage shows 12 of the candidates who will be speaking at the convention. Not pictured are U.S. Rep. John Delaney and self-help guru Marianne Williamson. File/Associated Press

South Carolina Democrats feel pretty good about this past weekend.

More than 1,000 people showed up at Congressman Jim Clyburn’s fish fry, then 2,500 delegates turned out for the state convention to cheer on a whopping 22 potential presidents.

Well, eight or 10 legitimate candidates ... and a bunch of other folks wasting everybody’s time.

But the Dems now need to forget all the hoopla surrounding their turnout and focus on a single number: 1.

South Carolina Democrats have only a single job for the 2020 presidential primary, and that is to steer their party toward a candidate who might actually have a snowball’s chance to win in this political climate.

Next year, the fourth Democratic primary falls to South Carolina, and it will be the first to show the party’s true diversity and demographics. Nevada has an influential influx of Latino voters, but Iowa and New Hampshire are pretty monochromatic. Of the early voting states, South Carolina most closely reflects the party’s national makeup.

And the primary falls three days before Super Tuesday, meaning the outcome here will have a real impact on 14 other states.

So no pressure, South Carolina.

The importance of this state’s presidential primary is why a group of influential Democrats gathered in Charleston last week for the sole purpose of keeping the party from veering too far to the left. Which is a real concern.

The national media spent the weekend casting South Carolina’s primary as a battle for the African-American vote, which makes up about 60 percent of the Democratic Party here. Whoever those voters choose, pundits said, will carry the state.

There’s just one thing wrong with that — an assumption that all black voters think the same way. That is laughably naïve and simplistic, just as asinine as proclaiming white people vote in a bloc.

Make no mistake, there is a divide in today’s Democratic Party, both in South Carolina and across the country. But it’s not about race; it’s political philosophy and, to a degree, age.

Younger voters are leaning toward the more liberal candidates, attacking centrist front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden more than anyone not named Trump.  Most recently, they were offended by Biden’s offhand boast about being able to work across the aisle back when there were (openly) segregationist senators lurking the halls of the Capitol.

That doesn’t sit well with some, but notice how Congressman John Lewis reacted.

“I don’t think the remarks are offensive,” Lewis said last week. “During the height of the civil rights movement, we worked with people and got to know people that were members of the Klan — people who opposed us, even people who beat us, and arrested us and jailed us.”

Of course, Lewis is right. He has perspective that many people don’t, because he saw this country in far different shape 60 years ago. He knows the only realistic way to make things better is incrementally (although any change is going to be drastic given today’s state of affairs).

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There are a lot of people to persuade in this country. About one-third of voters will cast their ballot to re-elect President Trump no matter what he says or does between now and the election. There is a similar percentage of the electorate who would sooner vote for a dancing bear.

Elections are won by capturing the biggest percentage of that remaining third. And that calls for at least a modicum of moderation.

That may not seem ideal to some, but neither side should believe they can just inflict their views on everyone. Otherwise the far left begins to look as inflexible as the far right. And when both sides look unreasonable, ties often go to the incumbent.

So South Carolina Democrats should watch the debates that begin tonight, and assess which of these two-dozen (and counting) candidates would have the broadest appeal, the ability to reach people that may not agree with their political philosophy 100 percent, but close enough.

Dems should also listen to those influential party leaders calling for moderation under the banner of the Third Way. Because, honestly, that may be the only way.

The most proficient way to steer this country is not careening wildly to the left and right, but putting it back in the road.

So, no pressure, South Carolina.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.