South Carolina Democratic Party members show their support for the president by cheering and waving Biden-Harris campaign signs. (Photos by Jenna Rounds/Carolina News and Reporter)
President Joe Biden returned to the Palmetto State a week ahead of its first-ever Democratic primary.
Candidate Biden showed loyalty to the state and its Black voters that saved his 2020 campaign during his keynote speech at South Carolina’s “First in the Nation Celebration” dinner.
“You’re the reason I’m president,” Biden said to a largely Black audience at the S.C. Fairgrounds in Columbia. “You are the reason Kamala Harris is a storied vice president. And you are the reason Donald Trump is a defeated former president. You’re the reason Donald Trump is a loser. And you’re the reason we’re going to win and beat him again.”
Attendees jumped to their feet, chanting “Four more years! Four more years!”
While it’s unlikely he’ll win the red state in November’s election — South Carolina hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1976 — the state’s vote in the Democratic primary this Saturday is essential to his reelection.
He’s aiming to win back Black voters who made up 60% of South Carolina’s Democratic electorate in 2020.
A strong win in South Carolina would signal to the rest of the country an enthusiasm for Biden and November.
Biden told the state’s 1.32 million Black residents he’s upholding the promises he made in 2020.
“Today, Black small businesses are starting up at the fastest rate in 30 years,” Biden said, and Black unemployment was at the lowest level ever recorded in American history.
His efforts to win over Black voters worked for Austin Jackson, president of Young Democrats of South Carolina.
“We have the power to create the nation that we want in these primaries, especially this one,” Jackson said following the president’s speech.
South Carolina voters will make history Saturday as they for the first time become the first in the nation to cast ballots in the party’s presidential primary season.
The party needed a second candidate for the primary to take place. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota stepped up and said he’s OK being “the other guy” to keep a Democrat in the White House and former president Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, out.
Attendees showed they had a favored candidate, proving Biden’s loyalty to South Carolina goes both ways.
Phillips struggled to keep the crowd’s attention. He paused his speech upon seeing his audience distracted.
“You know what, everybody? Can I have your attention for just a minute?” Phillips said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, Jaimee Harrison and Christale Spain had no problem keeping the crowd’s attention. Their pro-Biden speeches received applause and cheers.
Clyburn is the state’s senior congressman whose endorsement boosted Biden’s 2020 run when he won the state. Jaimee Harrison, a former state party chairman, is now Democratic National Committee chairman. Christale Spain, the current state party chair, is the first Black woman to hold that position.
Phillips went on to suggest a change in leadership to the disinterested audience who continued to chatter over him.
“The (poll) numbers do not say things are looking good,” Phillips said. “My invitation to President Biden is to pass the torch.”
But many waved their Biden-Harris campaign signs in response.
“Biden is someone that we trust,” said Greg Perry, former chair of the Charleston County Democratic Party. “This is not a blind date. He’s been courting us for years, spending a lot of time in our state.”
The president spent the weekend in Columbia, speaking at St. John Baptist Church on Sunday.
Florence resident Mitch Walker said the dinner felt like a homecoming celebration for Biden.
“Usually, we kind of just let the red state people do their thing,” Walker said. “It’s nice for us to steal the spotlight for a while.”
The celebration made Charleston resident Alison Hefter feel a sense of unity surrounding the upcoming primaries.
“I just love being in a room filled with Democrats,” Hefter said. “The atmosphere, the warmth of the people, it’s amazing. Trump has made it very clear that he plans to eliminate our government based on the Constitution, and that is very scary for many of us.”
Not everyone at the dinner felt that way.
Three protesters emerged from the crowd at separate times during the president’s speech.
Two of the protestors called for a ceasefire in Gaza. The third – who posed as a student journalist to get into the event – urged Biden to declare a climate emergency.
Authorities quickly escorted them from the room as the crowd chanted “four more years.”
“In my entire life, I have never seen divisiveness like this,” Hefter said. “I’m driven by the fact that each vote makes a big difference, even in a primary. I want people to see how many people vote Democrat.”
The South Carolina Democratic presidential primary will take place on Feb. 3. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Not sure where to vote? Go to the polling place finder page at scvotes.org.
Biden listed the policies implemented throughout his presidency, repeating the phrase “promises made and promises kept” after each item.
Attendees applaud and cheer for the president.
Audience members jump to their feet with excitement as Biden enters the room.
Greg Perry chats with other Democrats before speakers take the stage.
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Dussault is a senior journalism major at USC. She spent four months during her junior year studying in Barcelona, Spain, studying Media and Conflicts in Europe. All of her work is dedicated to her mother, Mary Dussault, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is the reason she is becoming a journalist.
Rounds is a senior public relations major with a concentration in sports media at the University of South Carolina. She loves to travel and completed a Semester at Sea. She is a member of the Epsilon Sigma Alpha service sorority and the Tau Sigma honor society.
Many emotions filled the room throughout the night.