Black voters in South Carolina are crucial for Democratic candidates

Around the South

(CBS News) – The stakes are high for all of the candidates ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic debate in South Carolina, co-hosted by CBS News. But they’re especially high for Joe Biden.

The former vice president had a substantial lead in the state, but has dropped in recent polls, notably among the state’s black voters who make up about 60% of Democrats here. Black voters, campaign organizers and veteran volunteers said the campaign is as competitive as ever.

One group of now mostly senior citizen organizers, known as The Reckoning Crew, initially endorsed Senator Kamala Harris. After she suspended her campaign, the group made headlines for backing Biden.

The group’s founder, Bernice Scott, is a force in South Carolina politics. Whether she’s organizing volunteers at her home, greeting people door-to-door or adding emphasis through a bullhorn on a Biden campaign bus, her voice is a trusted one in the state.

Asked why she called the group the Reckoning Crew, Scott told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King, “Because if you don’t do what’s right by the people, you have to reckon with us.” 

“What is it about Joe Biden that you feel a personal connection to?” King asked Scott.

“Because our country is so far back now. So Joe Biden worked for eight years with Barack Obama. … We need somebody who can hit the ground running,” Scott said.

The former vice president had a formidable lead in South Carolina. But according to a new CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, his support among the state’s black voters fell from 54% in November to 35%. 

“Are you concerned about what’s going to happen to your candidate of choice in South Carolina?” King asked.

“No, not really,” Scott said. “Because all we can do as the Reckoning Crew is take the message to the people. And if a train is coming down the track, and I tell you to get off the track … and you don’t move, I could feel good knowing I told you.”

Biden’s drop in the polls offers his Democratic rivals greater expectations for the next primary.

At the University of South Carolina in Columbia, some young organizers are pulling for Elizabeth WarrenBernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.

One of the Buttigieg campaign organizers was Walter A. Clyburn Reed, the grandson of South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn.

“So your grandfather, Congressman Clyburn, has been on the record as saying that Mayor Pete’s sexual orientation will be a problem for some voters. He said, he’s not necessarily talking about himself, but he said, many voters in South Carolina, black voters in particular, that that would be a problem,” King said to Walter.

“He was referring to his generation in particular … He understands that our nation is progressing,” Walter said. “He also understands … how much that that community … has a positive effect on not only American society, but eventually American politics.”

One Sanders organizer was just 16 years old.

Asked what it is about politics that fascinates him, Alex Blocker said, “As I grew up, I realized that politics is going to affect me and everybody else. … And so when I was witnessing the 2016 election, that’s when I really found out that it matters who you vote for.”

Asked why he settled on Sanders, Blocker said, “He’s a candidate who has fought for the civil rights movement. As far as … policies like Medicare For All, getting money out of politics, and ending that overseas wars. … ‘Cause that’s what I would run on if I could run.”

Elizabeth Warren supporter Zainab Dossaji told King she believes the stakes are higher in this election than the last presidential election.

“Because the last four years, so many people have been so afraid of where this country is headed, and I think, you know, Elizabeth Warren says it herself, ‘This is the fight of our lives,'” Dossaji said.

Asked what he thought when people view voters of color as a monolithic group, Walter said, “That is very untrue. … We all have different viewpoints … and in this election in particular, we have a lot of candidates who have a lot to offer.”

At a family fun run in the state’s capitol, voters seemed to agree the race for the Democratic nomination in South Carolina remains wide open.

“We still have more time. I still have more time to change my mind. I’m still researching and so we’ll see,” Renada Chisholm said.

Asked if the debates matter to her, Chisholm said they do.

“They matter a lot,” she said. “‘Cause you can’t retract what you said in front of millions of watchers. … How are you appealing to the African-American voters?”

“I keep hearing that,” King said. 

“That’s a huge part of the voters,” Chisholm said. “Especially in this community.”

“It’s like 60% black they’re saying,” King said.

“Yeah. So that’s important. I need to know,” Chisholm said.

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