John A. Carlos II (copy)

Kamala Harris' regional organizing director Sophia Powers, right, hands out campaign posters at a recent rally for the California senator at Jerusalem Baptist Church in Hartsville. She is one of 49 staffers hired by the Harris campaign in South Carolina as 2020 presidential campaigns expand their on-the-ground presence in the state. File/John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

Several leading 2020 Democratic presidential campaigns are rapidly expanding their on-the-ground presence in South Carolina, adding dozens of paid organizers in the crucial early-voting primary state to spread their messages.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, who has placed a notable emphasis on South Carolina in the early months of the race, leads the pack. The California Democrat's campaign told The Post and Courier she now has 49 paid staffers in the Palmetto State.

Several other well-funded competitors are not far behind. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has 35 campaign workers here and former Vice President Joe Biden, who entered the race later than most others, expects to have the same number by the end of the month.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has more than two dozen. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey has 22, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., has 15 organizing staffers with more planned soon and former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas has continued hiring since announcing nine staffers in May.

While several campaigns have had senior South Carolina staffers in place for months, the addition of sprawling field organizing teams across the state indicates the race is entering a new and intensified phase.

The hiring sprees, bringing paid staff close to 200 in the Palmetto State, mean South Carolina is now gradually catching up to the other key early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where many candidates already have even more extensive organizing operations.

South Carolina-based Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright said past presidential primaries in the state have shown the importance of contacting hard-to-reach rural voters while also competing for Democrats' attention in the state's biggest cities.

"You can’t win South Carolina without having a high-tech and a high-touch organization,” Seawright said. “That’s very reflective in the campaigns staffing up with the number of organizers they have put on the ground."

Most of the top campaigns have also purchased access to the S.C. Democratic Party's voter file, a resource that provides critical insight into where and how likely Democratic primary voters can be reached.

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Beyond the number of organizers, Seawright said it is important for campaigns to emphasize hiring South Carolinians who understand the state's culture and political terrain over bringing in assistance from outside the state.

"I’ve seen campaigns make mistakes by just deploying or bringing in people for the sake of having bodies but not having people who understand how to effectively communicate and work in a place like South Carolina," Seawright said.

Campaigns have also been focused on reflecting the diversity of South Carolina, where a majority of Democratic primary voters are African American. Of Harris' 42 new organizers across the state, 48 percent of them are people of color, the campaign said, along with 80 percent of her senior staff in the state.

Harris' staff announcement follows her ninth trip to South Carolina — the most visits of any candidate — with several packed events in the Pee Dee region in recent days.

Her campaign also announced the hiring of Shaundra Young Scott, a Charleston native and former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, as deputy political director.

"This investment will allow Kamala Harris to continue reaching voters from the most rural parts of the state to its major cities," said Harris' S.C. spokeswoman, Jerusalem Demsas. 

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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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