For Bernie Sanders, the last 48 hours in South Carolina ran all too familiar.

As he did in 2016, the senator from Vermont again called for health care to be free and for the national minimum wage to be $15 an hour as he returned to the annual King Day at the Dome event held Monday at the Statehouse.

Like a long ago Saturday in September 2015, Sanders on Tuesday addressed a group of students at Benedict College, a historically black liberal arts college in Columbia.

And on Tuesday evening, Sanders again found himself in North Charleston addressing a packed room of more than 300 supporters even though the venue had changed from a rally four years ago at the North Charleston Coliseum to a meet-and-greet at Royal Missionary Baptist Church.

Speaking at the church banquet hall in the heart the Liberty Hill neighborhood, Sanders took aim at President Donald Trump for his handling of race relations.

"This is a president who is intentionally and purposefully trying to divide our people up based on the color of their skin, based on where they were born, based on their gender, based on their sexual orientation, based on their religion," Sanders said.

He continued,"The function of a president is to bring us together, not divide us up."

Sanders ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 but failed to secure it despite a grassroots campaign that resonated with many. He also lost here in South Carolina, where he struggled to win over African American voters against Hillary Clinton during the first-in-the-South primary.

But already, Sanders seems to have taken notes from his 2016 loss and is putting those lessons into action that could help him raise his standing among the all-important black vote in the Democratic primary who he failed to convince last time.

His meet-and-greet was packed this week at Big T's Bar-B-Que, a minority-owned business in Columbia. On Tuesday morning, Sanders met with the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus. 

"He's learned from his last run and he recognizes if he's serious about winning the presidency or the nomination, that he needs to do more to get black voters to know who he is and what he stands for," said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, the state's longest-serving black House member.

One of the most powerful lines of the night Tuesday came while Sanders was discussing his intent to put a stop to voter suppression, an issue that has historically impacted minorities.

"If you don't have the guts to participate in a free and fair and open election, if the only way you can win an election is by making it harder for the poor and people of color to vote, if that's the only way you think you can win — get the hell out of politics," Sanders said, prompting cheers and whistles from the crowd.

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If Sanders decides to run in 2020, he won't be the only Democrat wooing black voters here. Sen. Kamala Harris of California is the second-ever black woman to serve in the Senate. She announced her plans to run for president this week, and will be in South Carolina on Friday.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will be in the Palmetto State on Wednesday for an organizing meeting.

As the Democratic presidential primary field expands, a question has loomed large: Is there room for Sanders? 

S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said there is, and that Democrats want choices.

"We're going to have a wide range of individuals deciding to seek the Democratic nomination for president who all have a unique history, a unique perspective and a unique voice to add to this process," Robertson said.

Sanders did not mention 2020 once during his 20-minute remarks in North Charleston, but he did cryptically tell the crowd, "We have a lot of work in front of us."

As Sanders walked off the stage, the crowd erupted into a chant of "Run Bernie, run!"

Sanders did not linger. He had a plane to catch, but many in the room said they hoped he would be back soon.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and 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.