South Carolina

2020 Democrats defend themselves in SC over questions of lack of black support

Four Democrats hoping to be their party’s presidential nominee in 2020 promised at a forum Saturday to improve the economic status of African Americans, while also defending themselves against criticism they aren’t doing enough to win over black voters, the S.C. Democratic Party’s largest voting bloc.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., told reporters in Charleston that aside from amping up his campaign’s outreach to community activists and grassroots groups, he is going to step up to ensure his campaign staff is diverse, an issue he’s been criticized over.

“We know it’s going to take extra work from us because I’m not from a community of color, and also was not famous when this process began,” said Buttigieg, the only openly gay candidate running for the Democratic nomination. “We have a long way to go, just in terms of name recognition.”

Only four of the more than a dozen Democrats running for president — Buttigieg, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas — spoke at a forum hosted by the Black Economic Alliance, a national political group formed by black business leaders. The forum will air on BET at 10 a.m. Sunday.

O’Rourke said he is “intentionally going everywhere” in South Carolina, including Voorhees College, a historically-black private college in Denmark. O’Rourke also met with the Gullah/Geechee Nation Friday in Beaufort on Friday.

However, the former congressman from Texas has been criticized for a lack of diversity at his campaign events, even those in predominately black institutions and communities.

“For this country to be successful, everyone must be included, especially those who have been marginalized and locked out of this country’s success in the past,” said O’Rourke, who rose to fame after only narrowly losing his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

That message of inclusion was a focus of the forum in Charleston, where Booker, Buttigieg, Warren and O’Rourke pitched their plans for improving inequalities that exist in minority communities through better access to housing and financial programs and through better job opportunities.

Booker, the only black candidate at the Charleston forum, called for addressing economic inequality for African Americans through programs that include Opportunity Zones and touted his proposal to give young adults a “baby bond” to help pay for college and career opportunities.

The former Newark mayor, who has been unable to break into double-digits in national and S.C. polls, said he’s still introducing himself to black voters, who will not quickly commit their votes to any one candidate.

“African Americans ... they guard their vote, they want to beat Donald Trump like we all do,” Booker said. “They want to see the viability of a candidate. We’re doing alright down here now. ... Folks are still getting to know me in the United States of America.”

At the forum, O’Rourke called for increasing federal resources to expand affordable housing, and both he and Warren said they support “banning the box,” a controversial practice that allows employers to no longer ask job applicants if they have criminal history.

Warren also advocated for increasing money for historically-black colleges.

The goal in 2020 should be “to make a governing economy that works for everyone,” Warren said.

While only four candidates spoke at Saturday’s forum, strategists say voters should not dismiss candidates who did not show.

As of Saturday, 22 Democratic presidential hopefuls were scheduled to talk to voters head-on for the S.C. Democratic Party’s annual banquet and convention, kicking off with U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s annual fish fry in Columbia on Friday. Eleven candidates also will speak at a Planned Parenthood forum Saturday, the same day as the state party convention.

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