NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Six of the seven Democrats competing in South Carolina’s primary spent Wednesday morning with Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, making markedly different pitches to an audience of around 200 black voters.
Biden spoke first, and most briefly, praising House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) shortly before he would accept Clyburn’s endorsement at a separate event.
“Jim, you better hope I don’t win, because you’re going to be the busiest man in the world,” Biden said.
The audience sat with rapt attention for Biden, some shouting “yes!” or “come on!” when the candidate criticized President Trump and said that he sometimes didn’t know if it was 1920 or 2020.
The other five candidates who made it to the breakfast got generally quieter receptions. Some of them seemed to seek it; Warren told a personal story about her days as a Sunday school teacher, and how she saw the “divine” in every person, before making a familiar pitch for her wealth tax.
Some seemed to seek a bigger reaction than they got, with Klobuchar quickly running through her agenda.
“Yes, I'm a former prosecutor,” she said. “That was the job I did before I got to the Senate. And I think actually having someone that knows the system, the bad parts, the good parts, what needs to be changed.”
Sharpton took time to introduce each candidate, noting that he had not heard of Buttigieg before his campaign began, and saying that Warren had “faced gender bias more than anyone.”
Sharpton also gave some commentary on the candidates’ odds. He described Warren as a candidate who was making a difference “whether or not she becomes president,” but as she left the stage, he introduced Sanders as “the front-runner,” and warned against “red-baiting” by pointing out that Nelson Mandela, too, had once given praise to Fidel Castro.
Sanders, who trails Biden in polls here, described the president as a “racist” and argued that attempts to turn democratic socialism into a liability would fail.
“Dr. King talked about socialism during his life and what he said back then resonates today,” Sanders said. “This is what he said, and I quote: This country has socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor.”
Steyer, whose free spending and constant campaigning has made him a factor in South Carolina, was the only candidate who criticized socialism by name.
“I want to put black people in charge of their economic destiny,” Steyer said, discussing his campaign to give loans to black businesses. The billionaire investor told the audience that he “grew up in the civil rights movement,” that he was the only candidate who supported reparations for the descendants of slaves, and that he had taken on the president only after black members of Congress set the tone.
“I saw a president who I thought was evil, who I thought was a racist,” Steyer said.
“Say that, Tom!” shouted one attendee.
Buttigieg, who was scrapping the rest of his Wednesday schedule after catching a cold, gave the most traditional stump speech of the day, describing how a “diverse and low-income city” took a chance on him. He got rousing applause, but on the way out, the mostly black audience had been most impressed by the candidate they’d known the longest.
“I respect them, but my mind is already made up,” said Tomi Greene, 70. “I’m for Biden.”