COLUMBIA -- U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called on South Carolina Democrats to remind voters in this state every day from now until November that President Obama inherited the "mess" created by the Bush administration.

"Don't let them forget why we're in the mess we're in: economic crisis, fiscal crisis and crisis for the middle class," Hoyer said. "We did not make that mess, but we have spent every day since then working, cleaning it up."

Hoyer's comments came as a rallying cry at the Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the party's largest fundraiser.

The dinner starts a weekend of events for the Democrats. More than 500 filled the tables in the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center for the speech.

Hoyer, of Maryland, ticked off a list of legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress that is aimed at lifting America out of the recession, including tax cuts and the new health care law. He credited the president with creating the fastest economic growth in six years.

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, turned the praise on Hoyer for his leadership.

"Because of him, we have been able to get legislation passed. Nobody thought we would do health care, but we've done it," Clyburn said, to big applause.

This election will show whether Democrats were able to hold onto the momentum from Obama's election, which energized young voters and grew the party in South Carolina in 2008.

"Things can change. Yes we can," Chandra Dillard, D-Greenville, said, after she called out the names of the party's candidates at the event.

After the dinner, hundreds of party loyalists kicked off their dress shoes nearby in a parking garage for Clyburn's "world famous" fish fry, which drew a handful of presidential candidates in 2007.

The party will hold its convention at 10 a.m. today at the Columbia convention center, followed by a barbecue and stump meeting. At 3 p.m., the Democratic candidates for governor, Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston, Superintendent of Education Jim Rex and Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, will debate.

After the Democrats clear out of the convention center, the GOP will take over for the 43rd annual Silver Elephant Banquet featuring Karl Rove, former senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

Hoyer noted the challenge South Carolina Democrats face in a state that is majority Republican. He recognized state party Chairwoman Carol Fowler for "keeping the faith" and cheered on Democrats Rob Miller and Vic Rawl, who are taking on U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, respectively.

Hoyer first became the House majority leader in November 2006 after serving as the party's whip to round up votes on key issues, the No. 3 position now held by Clyburn.

Hoyer is Maryland's highest-ranking and longest-serving congressman.

He graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1966, the same year he was elected to the Maryland Senate. He was elected to Congress in 1981.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855 or ywenger@postandcourier.com.