State Democrats talk presidential politics, state comeback

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Democrats launched their annual convention weekend insistent they can return to power in this GOP-dominated state.

“There is hope for South Carolina,” U.S. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia told more than 600 Democrats at the party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, noting that Democrats now hold every statewide constitutional office and both Senate seats in his state.

The senator, who narrowly won re-election in November amid an otherwise dismal election for Democrats nationally, told the partisan crowd that he’s already backing Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.

“I’ve made my decision: I’m ready for Hillary,” he said, drawing several cheers, arguing that she is best positioned on both foreign and domestic policy.

Clinton is not attending the convention this weekend, though state delegates will hear Saturday from former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton ally, will speak on her behalf. South Carolina hosts the South’s first presidential primary. It’s also the first contest for Democrats that will include a large number of African-American voters.

Warner promised that the South Carolina primary winner “will be the next president of the United States.”

He told his fellow partisans that Democratic candidates, from the presidential nominee on down the ballot, must use economic arguments to reclaim voters who have defected to Republicans or who have abandoned voting altogether.

That focus, he said, should focus especially on younger voters and a business community that Warner said is dominated too much by big businesses focused on “short-term quarterly profits.”

Warner said Democrats can rebuild relationships with businesses who are more interested in long-term investments in their employees and communities.

Even as Democrats prioritize the economy, Warner said they also must not abandon the party’s focus on civil rights and instead lead “a long overdue discussion about race and social justice.”

He promised to work with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn to restore key portions of the Voting Rights Act that the U.S. Supreme Court gutted leading up to the 2014 elections. Such changes have slim prospects with Republicans controlling Capitol Hill.

Warner said Democrats must be vocal in response to multiple cases of police killing unarmed citizens.

“Most of us know that these issues did not just appear with the invention of the camera phone,” he said, noting the video that showed a white North Charleston police officer, Michael T. Slager, shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, in the back.

Slager has since been fired and charged with murder.

Warner praised the nation’s police forces as a whole, but added that the electorate should demand “better training.”

“At the very least, we should agree that those who take an oath to serve and protect also must respect those who they protect,” he said.