- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

SUMTER, S.C. (AP) - With just one week remaining in this year’s hard-fought presidential contest, Vice President Joe Biden traveled to the Republican stronghold of South Carolina on Tuesday, urging voters to support Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, and calling Donald Trump the “definition of the abuse of power.”

Neither Clinton nor Trump has visited this state since campaigning during the primary season earlier this year, and it would be a longshot to turn South Carolina from red to blue in next week’s general election. But a repeat visit from a powerful surrogate like Biden signals Democrats’ seriousness in making inroads in the state, which last supported a Democrat for president in 1976.

Biden, who took the stage in a dark suit and tie, appeared alongside South Carolina’s lone congressional Democrat Jim Clyburn, as well as Fran Person, a former Biden staffer now challenging U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney. But the vice president quickly doffed the jacket as he got heated up launching barbs at Trump, who he said is the “definition of the abuse of power.”

“This is a guy I just cannot imagine being president,” Biden told a crowd of about 500 at Morris College, a historically black school in Sumter. “This guy is already doing damage to us internationally.”

Since his early days in the U.S. Senate, Biden has made many trips to South Carolina, where he befriended both of the state’s longtime senators, Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings. Huddling in the state as he mulled running for president himself this year, Biden earlier this fall headlined a fundraiser for Person and campaigned with him throughout the 5th District, which the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has listed among the top campaigns across the country to which it offers financial, grassroots and strategic support.

“We’re on the cusp of a major resurgence,” Biden said, saying sending candidates like Person to Washington could help propel the country in the right direction.

Mulvaney is seeking a fourth term in the 5th District, which had been in Democratic hands for more than 100 years until he defeated incumbent John Spratt in 2010.

But despite its Democratic roots, the area has trended more and more Republican, thanks in part to redistricting after the 2010 census. In 2012, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the district with 55 percent of the vote, roughly the same percentage Mulvaney won in his re-election bid. Two years later, Mulvaney was re-elected with more than 60 percent.

Since South Carolina voters picked Jimmy Carter over President Gerald Ford in 1976, the state also has become more Republican, with the party controlling both legislative chambers and every statewide constitutional office. The state last elected a Democratic governor in 1998.

Democrats might not win back the 5th District, or carry South Carolina for Clinton next week. But voters of all persuasions across the state are already coming out in potentially record-breaking numbers.

According to the State Election Commission, 2016 is on track to set a record for absentee voting. So far, 347,000 absentee ballots have been issued, according to commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. That’s 25 percent higher than this same point before the 2012 election, in which a total of 400,000 people voted absentee.

In South Carolina, voters can return absentee ballots by mail or submit them in person at designated locations in each of the state’s 46 counties. In-person absentee voting goes until 5 p.m. on Monday, the day before Election Day.


Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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