Hillary Clinton praises removal of Confederate flag during S.C. appearance

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton listens to a question from Mayor Miriam Green of Awendaw during a campaign event Thursday in Columbia. Clinton talked about what she said was a lack of educational and economic opportunities, and a criminal justice system that treats blacks more harshly than whites.

WEST COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s leaders did the right thing in removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME Church shooting, Hillary Clinton said Thursday during a one-day stopover in the Palmetto State.

The former first lady and secretary of state, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, returned to South Carolina for the second time since announcing her candidacy.

Clinton touched on the killings of nine parishioners at the historic black church — described by authorities as a racially motivated hate crime — during a morning appearance in West Columbia before heading to Greenville.

“I think it’s been a remarkable time in South Carolina,” said Clinton, echoing President Barack Obama in saying the state has shown “true grace.”

She commended Charleston Mayor Joe Riley for the way he and his city have dealt with a “very difficult time.”

Riley was not in attendance, although several other mayors took part in a question-and-answer session that covered topics ranging from race relations to education.

As outrage continues to build over the death of a black woman found hanging in a Texas jail after being arrested during a traffic stop, Clinton said the nation has to acknowledge it has “serious problems” with race and justice, and systemic racism.

“I think we first have to acknowledge and believe that black lives matter,” Clinton said. “It’s not just a slogan.”

The campaign appearance, which got started about 20 minutes late, came less than a day after an Associated Press-GfK poll found that Clinton’s standing is falling among Democrats, and voters view her as less decisive and inspiring than when she launched her presidential campaign three months ago.

Just 39 percent of all Americans have a favorable view of Clinton, compared with nearly half who say they have a negative opinion of her, an eight-point increase in her unfavorable rating from an AP-GfK poll conducted at the end of April.

Clinton did not do any interviews while in West Columbia but fielded questions from the crowd at the Conference Center of the Brookland Baptist Church. About 400 people, including the mayors of Columbia, Florence, Awendaw and Ridgeway, squeezed into the hall before the fire marshal closed the doors to dozens still waiting outside.

Clinton told supporters trickle-down economics — giving tax breaks to the wealthy, who, in turn, create jobs that pump wages into the economy — has been a failure, and that she would expand on South Carolina Democratic U.S. Rep Jim Clyburn’s idea of attracting investors to high-poverty areas.

“I want to be a small business president,” Clinton said. “If we’re not helping small businesses, we’re going to have less opportunity, less growth than we could otherwise.”

America, she said, has a lot of work to do to in updating its infrastructure; not just roads and bridges, but sewage and access to clean drinking water.

“Infrastructure is one of the best investments we can make,” Clinton said. “It is also one of the best employment vehicles.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.