COLUMBIA, S.C. — Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton jockeyed Saturday for the support of key South Carolina Democratic voting blocs that anchored President Barack Obama’s twice-victorious national coalition.
Sanders framed his message of economic and social inclusion for the state’s Democratic Women’s Council by highlighting his support for gender pay equity, paid family leave and access to abortion and birth control.
“Make no mistake about it, the right wing in this country is continuing its war on women,” the Vermont senator said Saturday morning before he and Clinton spent the day vying for backing from the state’s Democratic women, African-Americans and gay rights activists.
Clinton vowed at a town hall in heavily African-American Orangeburg to tackle problems important to black voters, from improving historically black colleges and universities to curing sickle cell anemia, an inherited blood disease that disproportionately affects African-Americans.
The two candidates touted competing endorsements. Former North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan declared her support for Clinton following Sanders’ speech at the Women’s Council. Sanders meanwhile came to the capital city of Columbia to accept plaudits from black community leaders, including some state lawmakers.
Addressing the women’s group, Sanders didn’t direct his arguments on women against Clinton, but focused instead on Republicans, decrying the GOP’s “horrific attacks” on Planned Parenthood.
“Women have been front and center in every one of our progressive victories,” he said, adding they are critical to withstand the GOP’s “counter-revolution.”
Meanwhile, at Orangeburg, Clinton continued her focus on minority voters. Calls to combat gun violence, enact immigration legislation and reform criminal justice laws have emerged as central themes of her campaign.
Polls here suggest Clinton enjoys a strong advantage among women and black voters, crucial players in the nominating contest given that white men across the Deep South have largely abandoned Democrats. South Carolina hosts the South’s first primary on Feb. 27, weeks after Iowa and New Hampshire begin the 2016 presidential voting.
In presidential elections, demographic shifts have led the party to concentrate on women, nonwhites and younger voters, even as they pitch their policy positions as favoring opportunity for all. Yet across the South, and the many other states lying between the Democratic strongholds of the Northeast and West Coast, that effort hasn’t translated to victories in congressional or state elections.
The result is that Democrats have won 5 out of the last 6 presidential popular votes, while the GOP has amassed House and Senate majorities, 31 governorships and outright control of 30 state legislatures. From the Carolinas westward to Oklahoma and Texas, Republicans hold every U.S. Senate seat, governor’s seat and control every legislative chamber.
Earlier this week, Clinton met with the families of young black people killed by police officers, including the mother of Michael Brown, whose death in Ferguson, Missouri led to nation-wide protests.
Still, she’s struggled to convince some young activists who have provided much of the energy behind the renewed interest in civil rights issues after spate of police killings of young minorities. In Atlanta last week, a handful of activist Black Lives Matter protesters tried to drown Clinton out as she discussed her criminal justice plan.
On Saturday, Clinton praised the activists for their energy but urged them to take a closer look at her proposals. “They are impatient and they deserve to be impatient,” Clinton said of the protesters. “I wish they had listened.”
Clinton is slated to speak Saturday evening in Columbia at a dinner hosted by state’s largest gay rights organization.
The events follow a Friday forum at Winthrop University in which Sanders, Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley each pitched themselves as the best standard-bearer for progressive policies.