Wake the Vote headed to SC for the Democratic primary on Saturday. I was on Team Bernie and we reported to headquarters that morning. It was a beautiful sunny South Carolina day and the Bernie supporters were eager to have college students in their midst. We found them charming with the exception of one woman who made disparaging comments about John Lewis after we mentioned that some of our cohort had met him on Thursday. We were all surprised that such an iconic civil rights leader was not held in high esteem at the headquarters of a Democratic candidate. It is true that the views of the volunteers do not always align perfectly with those of the candidate but I think this encounter said something interesting about Bernie’s supporters in SC.
After introductions we were sent by the Bernie crew to a surprisingly affluent neighborhood that did not seem like the type of community inclined to support a candidate who loudly advocates for redistributing the wealth. Unlike New Hampshire, the homes were much farther apart which made canvassing more difficult. Instead of trekking through snow with our door hangers on foot we were taking the PHI van all across the city. It was exhausting work and we met one singular ardent Bernie supporter who ran out to the curb to greet us, the rest were Republicans or not interested in speaking to canvassers. When we later were sent to less affluent neighborhoods the African American residents were across the board Hillary supporters. My perspective from the ground was that SC was looking dire for Bernie. I can honestly say I gave it my all for Sanders and worked even harder than I had worked in New Hampshire for the candidate I actually support. The Sanders campaign pushed harder than the Hillary one had in NH and had way less snacks.
When we headed back to headquarters after lunch we were met by a large and primarily African American crowd surrounding Symone Sanders. Symone is Bernie’s young and dynamic (as well as very fashionable) press secretary (no relation). She recognized us right away as Professor Harris-Perry’s students and was excited to speak to Wake the Voters! She loved the WTV swag we had for her and even tweeted our picture together. Symone’s support for Bernie as an African American woman involved in the Black Lives Matter movement is interesting and relevant considering Bernie’s terrible showing among African American voters in SC. Whether her presence and support will make a difference in non-Southern states remains to be seen.
We capped off our full day of Bernie canvassing with the Hillary victory party. I quickly switched gears and tore off my “Students for Bernie” sticker and stuck on my Hillary pin. Moments like those are a bipartisan WTV at its best. The vans we drive are always teeming with different candidate material as if we can’t make up our minds. Mountains of Bernie door hangers coexist with “Choose Cruz” posters and a lone “Jeb!” Sticker is still stuck on the back of a seat. One of my favorite parts of the program is when at the end of a long day canvasing everyone compares and trades candidate swag gathered at the headquarters. T-shirts, especially for candidates who have since dropped out, are especially coveted. After comparing our experiences that day on either team HRC or team Sanders we headed out to the Hillary victory party.
The Hillary rally in SC struck me immediately as very different demographically from Iowa. The African American presence was much greater and overall it was a much more diverse crowd. I had not felt truly out of place or uncomfortable at the last Hillary party like I had at other candidate’s rallies but I felt even more comfortable and at home in this diverse room. Hillary’s speech itself was also markedly different from what she had said in Iowa. Technically she had won both states but Iowa was a razor thin edge. We knew HRC had taken SC before we even entered the victory party venue. It was an overwhelming sweep. She managed to win even more African American voters over age 65 than President Obama did in 2008. The mood was electric and the crowd was over the moon. Hillary came out quickly, with little fanfare, after an introduction by Jim Clyburn and delivered an excellent speech. Her tone was victorious, not angry like it had been in Iowa. She touched on some very different points and issues than she had in Iowa. Notably, she listed each of the African American mothers who had lost children to police violence and had accompanied her on the campaign trail by name. She also invoked John Lewis and MLK. This SC Hillary was very different from who she had been in Iowa. This was the start of the Southern firewall we had heard so much about. Hillary was in her element and at home among a very different demographic. Her ties to South Carolina and the African American community had paid off. The crowd was crazy about her and after the speech she walked around shaking hands and taking selfies. In Iowa she had quickly disappeared without mingling with the crowd. This was truly a spectacular showing from a confident and strong Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton’s appeal to African American as well as Hispanic voters is intriguing. It is a crucial component that Bernie Sanders definitely lacks, despite some clear attempts to appeal. This failure was demonstrated by how soundly HRC took SC. Whether this trust in the Clintons is misplaced and if this love will hold through Super Tuesday remains to be seen. It will be fascinating to see if other minority groups will continue to choose HRC throughout the South and to understand their reasons for doing so. I can not wait to see if this southern firewall will hold.