Election 2020 Fish Fry

People gather for Majority Whip Jim Clyburn's "World Famous Fish Fry" Friday, June 21, 2019 in Columbia, S.C. Twenty-one of the Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination were expected to speak at the event, a mainstay on the campaign trail through this early-voting state.

COLUMBIA — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn's annual "World Famous Fish Fry" drew 21 presidential candidates to Columbia on Friday night, the largest gathering of the massive 2020 Democratic field so far, as they looked to court South Carolina Democratic primary voters.

The jovial event gave voters an opportunity to get up close and personal with high-profile politicians on the eve of the S.C. Democratic Party convention. Thousands attended this year, prompting Clyburn's campaign to prepare 2.2 tons of fish.

Candidates were given just a minute or two to address the crowd. Several stuck around after to take photos with supporters.

Before they traveled down Gervais Street to Clyburn's Fish Fry, the 2020 candidates walked along tables of donors, activists and politicians at the S.C Democratic Party's Blue Palmetto fundraising dinner. 

The candidates did not interact with each other as the crisscrossed the large banquet hall with a record-setting number of attendees who listened to speeches from party leaders about their hopes of chipping away at the Republicans' state dominance. 

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No other candidate drew crowds like Biden, the front-runner popular in the state where he vacations. Glancing across the room it was easy to spot the former vice president because he brought groups of seated diners to their feet to take photos, shake hands and chat.

The party dinner gave 2020 hopefuls an opportunity to network with top Democrats in the state. 

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, former Gov. Jim Hodges and state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter attracted attention. Former state party chair Jaime Harrison, who is challenging Lindsey Graham for the Senate next year, greeted a number of candidates as they arrived for a pre-dinner reception.     

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. was the keynote speaker. Bustos chairs the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

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Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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