Reckoning Crew

Members of the Richland County "Reckoning Crew" at their annual "Senior Citizens' Health Care and Fun Day," where representatives of Sen. Kamala Harris' presidential campaign spoke to the crowd. Now the hyper-active group of volunteers are throwing their support behind Harris. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — In 2016, former Richland County councilwoman Bernice Scott and her "Reckoning Crew" of local activists worked around the clock to ensure Hillary Clinton won the state's Democratic presidential primary.

This time, the group of hyper-active volunteers — predominantly African American women — are throwing their support behind U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, offering the California Democrat a valuable leg up as she looks to make inroads with one of the most influential demographics in this early-voting state.

Scott formed the group about 35 years ago as a way to keep residents of more rural parts of Richland County informed about issues affecting them in county government and to assist them with technical challenges like signing up for food stamps or paying their taxes.

With about 30 active members now, the group's only requirement to join is a willingness to fully devote themselves to community service — from going out in the rain to spread information, to cleaning up the local school house, to delivering food from charities to residents who need it.

"It's about commitment to serve the people," Scott said. "And that's what I saw in Sen. Harris — that commitment to want to serve and want to do what's right by people. That's the strong message she sent out: that she really cares."

Harris' campaign has a close connection to the Reckoning Crew: Jalisa Washington-Price, the campaign's South Carolina state director, is Scott's granddaughter. But Scott said she reached the decision to back Harris independently.

"Jalisa will tell you, meemaw's got her own mind," Scott said.

In the months leading up to South Carolina's Feb. 29 primary, the Reckoning Crew plans to be out walking door-to-door telling voters about Harris. They have already been helping the campaign set up offices in the Palmetto State, recruiting volunteers and building crowds for events.

Perhaps most valuably, Harris' campaign got an opportunity to speak to a crowd of almost 1,000 black senior citizens at the Reckoning Crew's annual "Health Care and Fun Day" in Columbia earlier this year — giving them the type of captive audience with a critical voting bloc that any campaign would envy.

At that event, Washington-Price and one of the campaign's senior advisers, Laphonza Butler, spoke to the crowd about Harris' background, and they played a video of Harris thanking the group for their work in the community.

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"A lot of campaign resources are spent on TV and digital and paid staff, and that's all fine," Butler said. "But growing up in the South, I know the value of my neighbor's opinion. When it comes down to it, that's really what is being brought to Team Harris by the Reckoning Crew."

"They've spent the last 30 years building trust with their community members, with their neighbors, at their PTA, and it's those kind of trusted voices that will help to create the kind of energy in the community that is not only going to turn people out but turn them out to vote for Sen.Harris," Butler added.

The Reckoning Crew's efforts already appear to be paying early dividends.

Helen Spearman, who retired from the S.C. treasurer's office and has been a member of the Reckoning Crew for 30 years, acknowledged former Vice President Joe Biden may start with an advantage in the state given how well-known he is by voters who aren't following the race closely.

"But once you go and talk to them and give them the literature and tell them about (Harris), we've been changing a lot of folks' minds," said Spearman, 66. "We're up for the task and we'll be out there doing it every day. We'll be working, and I think she's going to do very well."

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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