21 Dems Try to Hook 'Fish-Fry' Voters in South Carolina

June 24, 2019

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

By Megan Pratz

South Carolinians are serious about their fish. They’re also serious about their politics.

On a balmy (read: hot) summer night in the state capital on Friday, voters flocked to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry. It is, after all, the must-see political event in South Carolina’s political calendar. In a presidential election cycle, it’s also a must-stop for any Democrat on the road to the White House.

For the candidates, it’s worth the trip. Home of the “First in the South” primary, South Carolina is one of the earliest voting states in the primary calendar. With nearly two dozen hopefuls vying for every vote, the signature event of the state’s most prominent Democrat is a great chance to connect with a large number of voters.

The fish fry started in 1992 when Congressman Jim Clyburn wanted to thank his campaign staff and volunteers.

“The first fish fry was held in the parking lot of my campaign headquarters,” Rep. Clyburn explained. “We moved out to a big parking garage, then a bigger parking garage.”

Now held at Columbia’s EdVenture Children’s Museum, this year’s fish fry was the biggest ever. More than seven thousand South Carolinians showed up to eat the fish, enjoy a drink and, of course, hear from all the candidates.

Twenty-one candidates had just minutes to stand out from the pack. Clyburn wants his annual event to make these high-profile politicians more accessible to voters.

“If you depend upon people to do the work to get you elected, you ought to be okay with spending a few minutes with them, letting them know who you are as an ordinary person,” Clyburn said.

With just a few minutes for each candidate, it can be hard to make a splash. But it can be even harder to be a South Carolina voter facing down a primary with nearly two dozen options.

“There are so many Democratic presidential candidates, I really don’t know how I’m going to narrow it down,” said Caitlin Coaxum, a Democratic organizer.

South Carolina voter Noelle Sorich explained that candidates need to focus on messaging.

“When you get to the core of what South Carolinians care about, it’s jobs,” Sorich said.

After a late night of fish, free drinks and festivities, it’s time for the hard work: picking just one person to vote for.

Voter Hank Terrell summed up what the Cheddar Politics team has heard from voters all over the country: it’s all about electability.

“You want somebody for the Democratic nomination that’s going to beat [President Donald] Trump,” Terrell said.

Democratic frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden echoed that message in his speech to big cheers from the crowd.

“I’m going to work as hard as I can to get your support," Biden said. "But here’s the deal: whoever the Democratic nominee is, we have to stay together and elect a Democrat president.”

At Clyburn’s fish fry, the host had jokes and kind words for every candidate on the stage. But the senior Democrat from the Palmetto State is not ready to hand out his sought-after endorsement.

“It would not be fair for me to get out in front of South Carolina voters or to get between those voters and the candidates that they feel strongly about,” he said.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Kirsten: One of the biggest challenges for kids across America

Kirsten: is it's just too expensive to get higher education,

Kirsten: and so I have a couple of big ideas.

Kirsten: The simplest one is just refinance

Kirsten: all student debt at the lowest rate available,

Kirsten: which is at about four percent,

Kirsten: same rate you would get for a mortgage or

Kirsten: for a business loan and do that automatically.

Kirsten: That would help a lot of people who already have debt.

Kirsten: Then for kids who haven't gone to school yet but want to,

Kirsten: I would say for any young person in America,

Kirsten: if you're willing to do a year of public service,

Kirsten: you could get two years of

Kirsten: community college or state school free.

Kirsten: If you're willing to do two years of public service,

Kirsten: you could get four years free.

Kirsten: It's basically an expansion of the G.I.

Kirsten: Bill which is one of the greatest economic engines

Kirsten: in our country after World War II.

Kirsten: So you'd expand it to health care and education,

Kirsten: and green jobs, and first responders,

Kirsten: as well as military.

Kirsten: That's what would allow young people to go

Kirsten: into careers which are desperate for young people,

Kirsten: but also debt free college.

FEMALE_1: Another issue that's really important to

FEMALE_1: young people is cannabis legalization.

FEMALE_1: So, you know, in your own state, New York,

FEMALE_1: they were unable to get

FEMALE_1: the recreational cannabis bill passed

FEMALE_1: in this most recent legislative session.

FEMALE_1: What would you do to kind of

FEMALE_1: bridge the gap between the states that currently exist.

FEMALE_1: There's 33 states that have some form of

FEMALE_1: legal marijuana

FEMALE_1: and the federal government would still see that

FEMALE_1: as a schedule one narcotic

FEMALE_1: that has led to thousands of people being imprisoned.

Kirsten: Yes. So this is an easy one.

Kirsten: As president, I will decriminalize marijuana and make

Kirsten: sure people who didn't have convictions

Kirsten: have their convictions be absolved.

Kirsten: I will legalize marijuana to make sure we can have

Kirsten: a product on the market that we can get revenue from,

Kirsten: that we could actually use

Kirsten: a tax basis to invest in communities that have been

Kirsten: disproportionately harmed by the unfairness

Kirsten: in our criminal justice system

Kirsten: and how marijuana laws have

Kirsten: been enforced on racist basis.

Kirsten: Third, people who want and need it for medicine,

Kirsten: it would be entirely descheduled,

Kirsten: so that you'd have the ability to begin

Kirsten: to research the medicine,

Kirsten: um, be able to create pills and different ways to,

Kirsten: ah, be able to take the medicine,

Kirsten: but you'd also be able,

Kirsten: uh, to have investment

Kirsten: in pharmaceuticals for any marijuana derivative.

FEMALE_1: Here in South Carolina,

FEMALE_1: the- the prison population is

FEMALE_1: 60 percent black and the state population is

FEMALE_1: about 30 percent black and

FEMALE_1: many of those offenses are drug offenses.

Kirsten: Yeah.

FEMALE_1: I think we've seen this across the country.

Kirsten: Yeah.

FEMALE_1: But how do you make sure that as marijuana is legal in

FEMALE_1: more places including here in

FEMALE_1: South Carolina and other Southern states,

FEMALE_1: that the black people and the people of color who've been

FEMALE_1: disproportionately jailed for these offenses

FEMALE_1: are given the same economic accessibility?

Kirsten: Exactly. So that's part of my plan.

Kirsten: Um, we want to make sure that, ah,

Kirsten: black and brown people and women have access

Kirsten: to the industry of marijuana,

Kirsten: because the cannabis industry

Kirsten: is a growing strong industry.

Kirsten: But we don't want it to become a Wall Street industry.

Kirsten: We don't want just the bankers to

Kirsten: continue to thrive on every economic opportunity.

Kirsten: We want the communities that were

Kirsten: disproportionally harmed by the, ah,

Kirsten: over enforcement of marijuana, ah,

Kirsten: criminal, um, convictions on black and brown people.

Kirsten: In America today, if you are a young, black or brown man,

Kirsten: you are four times more likely to be

Kirsten: convicted of marijuana use than a white young man,

Kirsten: even though the usage is exactly the same.

Kirsten: In places like New York City,

Kirsten: it's 10 times more likely.

Kirsten: So it's something we must rectify to

Kirsten: restore the balance that we should have in this country.

Kirsten: It's a way to begin to address institutional racism.

Kirsten: It's a way to begin to address

Kirsten: systemic racism in our criminal justice system.

Kirsten: It's something I'm going to do as president.

Kirsten: I could do that the first day because I can deschedule

Kirsten: marijuana on day one and I

Kirsten: can decriminalize it on day one,

Kirsten: and I would do it federally.

FEMALE_1: June is pride month.

FEMALE_1: So this is when we celebrate and look back

FEMALE_1: on the gains made by the LGBTQ Community,

FEMALE_1: and this is a community that you have dedicated a lot of

FEMALE_1: time to in your run for the White House.

FEMALE_1: Tell me why that's so important,

FEMALE_1: why is it important for you to be seen in

FEMALE_1: the gay bars and with the dry community.

FEMALE_1: You know, kind of showing your support?

Kirsten: Well, ah, as president,

Kirsten: I will be the most forward looking LGBTQ

Kirsten: plus president ever.

Kirsten: Um, I will restore rights that have

Kirsten: been denied to people based on who they love.

Kirsten: Ah, I will make sure we pass the Equality Act,

Kirsten: uh, put it into law, uh,

Kirsten: so it can't be changed and

Kirsten: make sure that you can't be discriminated

Kirsten: against in the workplace,

Kirsten: or in education, or in

Kirsten: health care, or in criminal justice,

Kirsten: to make sure you can adopt if you are

Kirsten: an LGBTQ plus couple,

Kirsten: to make sure we can ban conversion therapy,

Kirsten: to make sure drugs are available,

Kirsten: if you need access to PrEP,

Kirsten: if the drug maker will not create a generic,

Kirsten: I will ask the NIH to create it,

Kirsten: because they've had that drug available for over a decade

Kirsten: and they're unwilling to create a generic,

Kirsten: and are charging upwards of

Kirsten: $14,000 to patients who

Kirsten: desperately need it as a lifesaving drug.

Kirsten: Ah, I would make sure our transgender troops

Kirsten: are restored to their service immediately.

Kirsten: I would make sure young people could

Kirsten: choose what bathrooms they want to go into.

Kirsten: I would be a president that takes care

Kirsten: of all families as if they were my own.

FEMALE_1: So I want to kind of wrap

FEMALE_1: up here by taking the pulse of your campaign.

FEMALE_1: I know that things have maybe- you've

FEMALE_1: definitely faced a lot of criticism from the media,

FEMALE_1: so much scrutiny than maybe some

FEMALE_1: of your fellow candidates.

FEMALE_1: So tell me where you see your campaign right now.

FEMALE_1: Do you feel like you're happy with where things

FEMALE_1: are and what might you have changed in

FEMALE_1: the last three months or so?

Kirsten: We are just getting started and it's really exciting.

Kirsten: It's so early. You know who is at one percent

Kirsten: this time last go? President Trump.

Kirsten: So there's plenty of time and I'm loving being in

Kirsten: South Carolina because I get to

Kirsten: introduce myself to voters here.

Kirsten: I've been in States all across the country.

Kirsten: I'm going to go to every red place,

Kirsten: every blue, place every purple place I can find.

Kirsten: An interesting thing about me and

Kirsten: the reason why I know I'm gonna win,

Kirsten: I take on the fights that other people won't.

Kirsten: You've just heard my agenda on LGBTQ plus rights,

Kirsten: on marijuana reform,

Kirsten: on foreign policy, on women's rights.

Kirsten: There's not an issue that I don't

Kirsten: lead on and haven't let on in

Kirsten: the last decade that I

Kirsten: haven't actually gotten things done on.

Kirsten: First one to pass major gay rights legislation

Kirsten: last decade with the repeal of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.'

Kirsten: I've taken on congress

Kirsten: through transparency and accountability,

Kirsten: and getting at the root of corruption,

Kirsten: taking on the military over

Kirsten: sexual assaults in the military,

Kirsten: over 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.'

Kirsten: I take on the battles that other people don't,

Kirsten: and, um, it's gonna- it's the reason why I want to win.

Kirsten: I win in red and purple and blue.

Kirsten: I have the highest vote threshold

Kirsten: in the history of New York State

Kirsten: at 72 percent, higher than Hillary,

Kirsten: higher than President Obama,

Kirsten: higher than anybody's ever run for senate or governor.

Kirsten: Ah, just, even with that,

Kirsten: I could bring people together in

Kirsten: Washington and actually pass bills.

Kirsten: President Trump just signed

Kirsten: 18 of my bills in the last congress.