Our View: Cast a vote of conscience in South Carolina's Democratic primary 

Take Your Pick

click to enlarge SAM SPENCE
  • Sam Spence

When S.C. voters step into their polling places on Saturday, they'll either cast a ballot for the candidate they think will make the best president or take a more strategic approach to vote for whomever they think can win in November.

The truth is, any of the seven Democrats on the S.C. primary ballot would be a better president than Donald Trump.

As we face down South Carolina's primary Saturday and Super Tuesday next week, Democrats will find themselves choosing between a democratic socialist in his fifth year of running for president, New York City's former Republican mayor, or another candidate who has been less capable of rallying support to defeat the incumbent president.

You may have heard, but South Carolina is the first early primary state with a significant African-American population, making it more representative of the diverse Democratic electorate nationwide. Yet, as the party gets set to test its appeal to black voters amid worries over nominating a candidate who could appeal to Republicans' 95-percent-white voting base, Democrats now have an all-white slate of candidates.

With two billionaires now dumping millions of dollars to pay for eyeballs and support in S.C., will our 2020 primary even be a fair contest? South Carolina remains an early state not just for its racial diversity, but its small size and less-expensive media markets that make it cheaper to organize and advertise here. It's so cheap, apparently, that billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, who has spent $14 million on TV and radio ads over the past seven months and $1.1 million on targeted Facebook ads in South Carolina since December alone, is positioned to be a spoiler. Steyer sits in third place at 18 percent support in the Feb. 23 CBS/YouGov poll, just 5 percent behind U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Should Steyer's strategic spending and outreach within African-American communities prove effective, it will be to the detriment of former Vice President Joe Biden.

On the issues, South Carolina workers have very little reason to look beyond Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Their policy proposals to muscle the American economy out of the hands of corporate interests could be a gamechanger for South Carolina, where handouts for big business are routine and 22 percent of the state's rural residents sit in poverty. That said, looking past South Carolina, it is unclear that the current Democratic frontrunner Sanders could convene the same "multi-generational, multi-racial" coalition he has boasted so far in a general election.

Despite the S.C. Republican Party's stranglehold on state government, South Carolina remains only a marginally red state. In a 2018 Gallup poll, 47 percent said they identify or lean Republican, 37 percent for Democrats — a large-enough disparity to label S.C. as a "Strong Republican" state, but only by 1 percent. Turnout on Saturday will be key to assessing Democratic enthusiasm. In 2016, when both parties held primaries, Republicans nearly doubled up Democrats at the polls, drawing close to 800,000 voters.

With so much uncertainty and doubt in the Democratic primary field, we urge South Carolinians to vote their conscience on Feb. 29.

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