COLUMBIA — Many of South Carolina’s Democrats welcomed presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, as she called for the reemergence of the American middle class she grew up in.
Wednesday was the first political visit to the Palmetto State for the former secretary of state since 2008. Clinton made several appearances throughout the state’s capital, including two stops at locally owned food establishments.
The Democrats’ frontrunner also addressed the South Carolina House Democratic Women’s Caucus and the South Carolina Democratic Women’s Council at their third annual “Day in Blue,” where Clinton called for equal pay for women, touted her experience and said she wanted the words “middle class” to mean something again.
Clinton talked about recent Democratic presidents inheriting “a mess of problems” and then being tasked with digging the nation out of “ditches” and putting it on the “right track.” Allowing Republicans to win the White House in the next election would risk the economic progress the nation has made, she said. “We’re going to have to stand up to the people who want to keep the deck stacked in favor of those at the top,” Clinton said. “We’re going to fight to make sure that the success of our country is shared across the economy and that more families have the chance to get ahead; not to just get by but to stay moving forward with the kind of confidence and optimism that has always marked the best times in America.”
Her speech lasted just over 25 minutes. Clinton also called for raising the minimum wage and touted knowing how hard the job she’s seeking is, adding she’s seen it “up close and personal.” She also joked that previous presidents’ hair tends to grow gray while in office because of the job’s challenges.
“Now let me tell you, I’m aware I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I have one big advantage: I’ve been coloring my hair for years,” Clinton said. “You’re not going to see me turn white in the White House. And you’re also not going to see me shrink from a fight.”
Jim Thompson, of Fort Mill, said he believed Clinton is the right person for the job, because she has fought to have everything she has achieved. He was among the few men attending the “Day in Blue” event.
“We need steady and experienced leadership at this time to keep what the president is trying to do,” Thompson said. “If anyone can take on those rotten Republicans it’s her.”
Thompson acknowledged that the state’s Democrats have a lot of work ahead of them in the red state of South Carolina, but believed the wounds of the 2008 primary have healed. Back then, Clinton was soundly defeated in the state’s Democratic primary, finishing a distant second to Barack Obama’s 55 percent with 27 percent in the multi-candidate field.
Yet, she was greeted with cheers and applause at Kiki’s Chicken and Waffles earlier in the day, where she stopped for a roundtable discussion with six minority businesswomen on the challenges they face as business owners. Clinton greeted everyone who was at the restaurant for lunch before sitting down for the discussion.
Nikki and Carolyn Hall, of Columbia, said they dropped by for lunch on Wednesday after hearing rumors that Clinton could swing by. Kiki’s is a popular Midlands restaurant that serves chicken with waffles. Vice President Joe Biden made a stop at the restaurant earlier this year.
Later in the afternoon, she visited the Main Street Bakery, where she discussed Scripture with 64-year-old Frederick Donnie Hunt, of Columbia, who said he was nervous when he first learned his afternoon routine would be interrupted by Clinton’s visit.
“She just grabbed a cup of tea and came over,” Hunt said. “I’m glad to see her come to the small establishments. You think the big people go to big restaurants. But it was nice to see her in a minority business.”
National and local media were invited to trail Clinton at Wednesday’s events, but she did not take any questions. In advance of her visit, the Republican National Committee issued a short video mocking her campaign style, saying her events are overly staged.
The one-minute video, available on YouTube, shows actors saying they were pre-screened before they could appear at a Clinton sit-down.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina spoke to the press on a sidewalk outside the Columbia hotel where Clinton addressed state Democrats. Fiorina denies being a copycat. She said she planned her trip weeks ago. The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive is the only woman among the notable Republican candidates and has been a persistent Clinton critic.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.