Charleston-area Democrats cheered each other onward for two hours Saturday afternoon, encouraging unity and urgency in the hope of replicating the Democratic sweep of statewide offices seen days ago in Virginia.

Among the featured speakers were the party's two candidates for governor — state Rep. James Smith of Columbia and Charleston businessman Phil Noble.

In the days leading up to the local party's annual Blue Jamboree at the Schoolhouse events space in West Ashley, Smith snagged a total of 24 endorsements for his bid.

On Monday, Smith earned the support of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. By Tuesday, his campaign had released a list of 22 Charleston-area Democrats who say they are also backing Smith. On Wednesday, former Democratic Gov. Dick Riley stood next to Smith and gave his endorsement, too.

Smith leaned on that growing support during his remarks to 185 Democrats Saturday.

"I was very proud this week to stand alongside one of my personal political heroes as a young guy getting involved in politics and putting out signs," Smith said, referring to Riley. "This week, I was very grateful to stand along his side and have his endorsement to be your next governor of South Carolina. Our second educational renaissance is ahead of us."

He said Democrats could not be better poised to take the reins of power away from Republicans, who have ruled the state since the 1980s.

"We need a governor who cares more about doing the job than keeping the job," Smith said. "If we keep putting the same people in power, we will keep getting the same result."

Though the filing period won't open until March, College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts told The Post and Courier  that getting endorsements early is one way Smith can push his primary nomination opponent — Noble, out of the way.

"For James Smith, having another Democrat in the race is going to make it more challenging. You're trying to get a lead and get that momentum and money while also trying to avoid a negative primary that could weaken you," Knotts said. "To be able to win in South Carolina, it's going to take Democrats being completely united — no bad blood."

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.


Noble said the endorsements coming out for his opposing candidate do not phase him. He's comfortable being the guy without the backing of party line Democrats.

"I'm the first to admit that I am not the chosen candidate of the Democratic Party establishment," Noble said. 

Taking a swing at Smith's resume as a seasoned, well-liked Statehouse politician from Columbia, Noble said what Democrats have tried in the past with gubernatorial candidates just doesn't work.

"They're smart. They're talented. Their colleagues love them. They have good legislative records. They're wonderful people. They're all our friends and they run for office with small ideas, limited ambitions, little goals and they run as 'Republican-light.' And what happens? They get beat," Noble said.

"We've got to elect a different kind of Democrat," he said.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590. Follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.