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In South Carolina, concerns over down-ballot Democrats pitched as one reason to look for moderate nominee

S.C. race has come down to Biden and Sanders

Sam Spence Feb 26, 2020 12:15 PM
Only seven candidates will be on Saturday's primary ballot in S.C., but local Democrats hoping to get elected in November want you to keep them in mind when you head to vote on Feb. 29.

Following the endorsement of a handful of local Democrats leading into the South Carolina primary, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., made the case during Tuesday night's Charleston debate that whoever faces off against Donald Trump will have an impact on local Democrats down the ballot.

"The time has come for us to stop acting like the presidency is the only office that matters," Buttiegieg said in an exchange with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders over health insurance reform costs. "We got a House to worry about. We got a Senate to worry about."

Colleen Condon, who leads the Charleston County Democratic Party, announced her support for Buttigieg echoing a similar sentiment.

"He is more than capable of appealing to former Republicans, committed Democrats, and is the nominee we need to win races down ballot across this nation," Condon said in a press release from the Buttigieg campaign.

In major election years, with more attention on big races across the country, the chosen nominee at the top of the ticket can affect fundraising, enthusiasm, media coverage, and other candidates up for election at the same time — for better or worse.

Brady Quirk-Garvan, a former county party leader who previously backed U.S. Sen. Cory Booker but has not endorsed another candidate, says the stakes are high for Charleston-area races.

"We’ve got three-to-five legislative seats that will be decided by a few-hundred votes. We know that a lot of independents are repulsed by Trump in this area. If we can provide quality candidates who focus on local issues we can win."
Buttigieg is polling well behind in South Carolina, but his framing of the contest as one of dueling visions acknowledges that it has boiled down to two candidates: Sanders, an independent who votes with Democrats, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is more moderate.

The South Carolina debate was also the last time 2020 Democrats will face off before Super Tuesday when 14 states will hold primaries, including in states like North Carolina where Democrats are working to retake the majority in the state legislature.

State Rep. JA Moore (D-Berkeley) says a potential Sanders nomination "100 percent" influenced his decision to endorse Buttigieg after initially backing Kamala Harris.

"I'm very concerned with Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket, I think it puts in jeopardy my dear friend Joe Cunningham, I think it puts in jeopardy my race, I think it puts in jeopardy Krystle Matthews' race. I think it's important that whoever's at the top of the ticket can bring together the entire country," Moore says.

Matthews and Moore both unseated incumbent Charleston-area state House Republicans in 2018. Cunningham has not endorsed, but Matthews has endorsed Sanders.

"I think the presidential campaign is totally different than these local races," Matthews tells the City Paper.

"I am endorsing my candidate not because I agree with everything that comes out of his mouth all the time, but because I think that he is going to be the best fit for me as a working mother," Matthews says. "I'm going to be true to me. I'm going to serve my people. I'm going to do the best that I can in my district regardless of who I support for president," she says, calling Moore's comments "very disappointing."

Sam Spence
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson (center) and Rep. Marvin Pendarvis (left) have endorsed Joe Biden
After the debate Tuesday night, senior Sanders advisor Jeff Weaver defended the senator, who is as close as 5 percent behind Biden in some polling.

"You saw in the Nevada caucuses, in the entrance polls there, [Sanders] was polling even with Joe Biden, moderate voters, so he does have an appeal that's outside of his ideological wane," said Weaver, who managed Sanders' 2016 race. Sanders posted a 27-point victory in Nevada last Saturday.

"The truth of the matter is that if you can energize people to come out and vote for the top of the ticket," Weaver continued, "It doesn't just benefit the top of the ticket it benefits the ticket all the way down."

After endorsing Joe Biden in January, S.C. Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who represents parts of the peninsula and into North Charleston, also called out Cunningham, who will face a Republican challenge in November.

"Joe Biden at the top of the ticket would no doubt bode well for Joe Cunningham," Kimpson told The Post and Courier.

Also referencing Cunningham on CNN after the debate, Buttigieg continued to prod Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist.

"I don't want our nominee to have House Democrats stuck explaining why we nominated Bernie Sanders when we could have nominated a Democrat."

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