COLUMBIA — The announced Charleston visit from former Vice President Joe Biden has excited many of the state's Democrats about the possible presidential run they were denied in 2016.
Biden will speak before a diverse audience next month in what is the first high-profile visit from a potential 2020 presidential candidate in this early primary state with more appearances from others being expected, despite the election being three years away.
Many of the state's Democrats said they hope Biden throws his hat into the race that he decided to stay out of last year after his son Beau Biden died from brain cancer.
"I think there are people all over the country who wished he ran in '16 and would support him in '20," said Amanda Loveday, former S.C. Democratic Party executive director and longtime Biden supporter.
S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson calls Biden a genuine leader and person who connects with the average resident.
"I think that there is a group of individuals in South Carolina who are ready to march into hell and back if Joe Biden announces he's going to run for president," Robertson said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn said Biden's love affair with South Carolina, and specifically the Charleston area, is clear — and reciprocated.
Biden joined Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in Charleston in April to unveil a statue for his good friend Fritz Hollings, a former governor and U.S. senator. Biden, a former longtime Delaware senator, delivered the eulogy at the funeral for U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, a South Carolina political icon.
When giving the Senate oath of office to North Charleston Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott in January, Biden said: "When I die, I want to be reborn in Charleston."
He attended a Sunday service at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church after the mass shooting in June 2015. And for years he's vacationed on Kiawah Island.
Next up, Biden is coming to Charleston to serve as the keynote speaker for the Sept. 23 Charleston branch of the NAACP's 100th anniversary fundraising dinner.
Some political experts say while they would welcome a run from the former vice president, it's just as possible that Biden's love of South Carolina — and an invitation — is what's bringing him here.
"Knowing how he is, I think he would jump at an opportunity to speak whether he was considering (a campaign) or not," South Carolina Democratic strategist Lachlan McIntosh said. "He really has a special soft place for Charleston and the people that live here. I wouldn’t read too much into that."
McIntosh's caution isn't stopping some Democrats from getting excited at the thought of Biden running in 2020, believing he'd stack up pretty well against Republican President Donald Trump.
"I have some more conservative friends who can't say a bad thing about (Biden)," said Boyd Brown, a former Democratic state House representative. "I think there would be some great pickup opportunity for Biden."
Brown noted that in previous years — such as when he ran against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008 — Biden's biggest obstacle was his ability to sometimes put his foot in his mouth.
"The things he was criticized for saying 20 years is ago is child's play compared to what comes out of the Trump White House on a daily basis," he said.
Clyburn also played down concerns about Biden's age — 74. Biden would be 77 during the 2020 general election. Trump became the country's oldest president when he took office this year at age 70.
"I don’t buy all this malarkey about his age thing," said Clyburn, 77. "He's younger than I am. I played golf with folks younger than me the other day and I was driving them all day."
Clyburn said he would urge Biden to prepare for a potential presidential campaign.
"My thoughts are he should keep his lamp trimmed and burning, so he can be ready when the bridegroom comes," Clyburn said, quoting the Bible.
Of course, McIntosh said, all of it is speculation about a race that's three years away — even if many Democrats feel as though Trump's first six months in office have been much longer.
"It feels like it's been about three years since he won," McIntosh joked. "It is early. But I think whether Biden is considering running or not, I wouldn’t read too much into it. I think he'd be (at the NAACP event) no matter what. That's just the type of person he is."
Biden isn't the only Democratic politico with South Carolina eyes. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley visited earlier this year.