- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2019

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Democratic voters are still waiting for the second coming of Barack Obama in this key primary state, where the messages from the 2020 candidates barely break through and two prominent black candidates struggle to make an impression.

Turechan Taylor, who teaches at a Head Start preschool program in Manning, said she hadn’t heard of any of the two dozen Democratic candidates except for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

“I guess he’s OK just from knowing him,” said Ms. Taylor, 50.

Her take on the crowded field of candidates was echoed in interviews The Washington Times conducted with rank-and-file Democrats across the Palmetto State.

The lack of name recognition for most of the candidates is particularly troubling for Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, black candidates who have spent more time than any of their primary rivals in South Carolina.

The state is home to the third nominating contest of 2020 and the first primary in the South, and its voters are poised to play a decisive role in picking the Democratic nominee.

Mr. Booker and Ms. Harris each has made 24 visits this election cycle, according to a count by The Post and Courier in Charleston.

The next most frequent visitors were Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont with 18 events, New Age guru Marianne Williamson with 17 and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas with 15.

Mr. Biden, who is running a slow-paced campaign, has visited four times. His strong name recognition after eight years as President Obama’s right-hand man is credited with propelling him to the front of the pack.

None of the candidates has forged a strong connection with the voters — especially black voters, who accounted for 60% of the state’s Democratic primary electorate in 2016 — the way Mr. Obama did in his historic 2008 run, said LaShonda Jackson, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Florence County.

“When Obama ran his campaign, it was all about hope,” she said. “That is what people need again: hope. We need a candidate who is really going to bring hope to South Carolina and these people living here. That is what is going to empower them and motivate them to vote.

“It is going to be hard,” Ms. Jackson said.

State Rep. Terry Alexander, who has endorsed Mr. Sanders, said using an Obama yardstick to measure 2020 candidates is unrealistic.

“They are not Obama, and I don’t expect them to be Obama,” he said.

The thirst for another Obama should benefit Mr. Booker, who is running on an inspirational message of unity and love. But he registers only in the single digits in South Carolina polls.

A Post and Courier survey last month showed Mr. Biden leading the Democratic race with 46%, followed by Mr. Sanders with 18% and Ms. Harris with 10%. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg tied for fourth place with 8%, trailed by Mr. Booker with 4%.

Ms. Harris has done a better job than Mr. Booker in reaching voters.

“She speaks the truth,” said Wendell Hickson, 27, a car wash worker in Hartsville. “She is trying to get things right in South Carolina and not holding back on anybody.”

He knew of some of the candidates, including Mr. Booker, though he didn’t know enough about Mr. Booker to consider supporting him.

Ms. Harris, a former California attorney general who also served as district attorney in San Francisco, is running on the prosecutorial prowess that she says uniquely equips her to challenge President Trump.

She has pledged to greenlight the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Trump if she is elected.

Democratic officials across the state agreed that Ms. Harris should be polling better than a distant third.

They also expressed shock that Mr. Booker did not perform better in the polls.

Sounding similar to Mr. Trump’s supporters shrugging off his poll numbers, some Democratic officials challenged the accuracy of the numbers for Mr. Booker.

“I’m not sure those polls are really reflective of what I see on the ground here because [Mr. Booker] gets a good response and good crowds,” said Jim Thompson, chairman of the Democratic Party in York County. “I don’t know who they are calling. I’ve never been called for polls.”

Mr. Booker will be back in the state Saturday for a presidential forum in Charleston hosted by the Black Economic Alliance.

Mr. Buttigieg, Mr. O’Rourke and Ms. Warren also will participate in the forum and take another shot at connecting with voters.

South Carolina Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright said all the candidates have plenty of time to hone their messages.

“There is still a lot of ball to be played. Remember, we are still in the training camp for the 2020 election,” he said. “I don’t count anybody out at this point.”

At Mel’s Tire Shop in Florence, owner Melvin Wright, 31, said he is supporting Mr. Biden because the former vice president strikes a “familiar tone.”

“To be honest, all the messages are the same,” Mr. Wright said. “I think about the Obama administration and everything ran pretty smooth and [Mr. Biden] was the co-pilot.”

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