U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, winning primaries in 23 states and establishing a name for himself outside of his home state of Vermont.
But the success he found across the nation didn't translate to South Carolina. Clinton blitzed Sanders in the Palmetto State's primary in 2016, beating him by nearly 50 percentage points. It was a critical primary, as early voting South Carolina is a key test for how Democratic presidential hopefuls might fare with African American voters.
Sanders is back in the presidential stir for 2020, and his campaign insists he can post better results in South Carolina this time around. The urgency of the Vermont senator's Palmetto State efforts were highlighted on Sept. 21, when a number of campaign surrogates — including activist Cornel West, actor Danny Glover, Sanders campaign national co-chair Nina Turner, Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen, also a national co-chair, and state Sen. Terry Alexander, among others — rallied support for Sanders in Columbia. The Sanders supporters met with reporters in a ballroom at Columbia's Marriott hotel.
Sanders, 78, has been particularly popular with young voters, with a Medicare-for-all plan, a push for free public college and a pledge to cancel the nation's $1.6 trillion in student loan debt among the planks in his campaign platform. A Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics poll recently showed Sanders ahead among likely Democratic voters between the ages of 18 and 29. Sanders was polling at 31 percent with the young voters, with former Vice President Biden second at 20 percent and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke in third at 10 percent.
West, the activist and author, says younger voters have embraced Sanders' message, while older Democrats are having a hard time letting go of more centrist ideals embraced by candidates like Biden.
"Bernie's authenticity and honesty and consistency with the content of his message, which is 'This neoliberalism cannot deliver in regard to the needs and the necessities,'" West says. "The young people are much more open. It takes older people more time to wake up. That's why they are still holding onto Biden for dear life. Biden's about to go off a cliff, take them off a cliff, and they are just holding on for dear life. That's what you call an adolescent addiction to the familiar."
Biden has consistently led polls in South Carolina, with Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren often polling just behind him in the still-robust Democratic field.
Turner, the former Ohio state senator who is co-chairing Sanders' campaign, says the Vermont senator's progressive positions — such as Medicare-for-all — have shaped the direction of the Democratic race so far.
"Every Democrat running is running on the gospel according to Bernard Sanders," Turner says. "Every single one of them, even the ones who are resisting it. You can't be a Democratic presidential candidate without running on some platform that Senator Sanders laid bare."
Glover, the actor known for his roles in the Lethal Weapon films, among others, says he appreciates Sanders' willingness to lean into big issues, from student loan debt to poverty to mass incarceration.
"Bernie Sanders confronts the issues," Glover says. "He's there with empathy, care, love and the struggle to fight for justice."