When Amy Klobuchar took the stage at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s “First in the South Dinner” Monday evening, it was just her ninth time in the state since launching her presidential campaign more than a year ago. CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell says the Minnesota senator delivered her pitch to the room of about 850 voters. “I will restore that sacred trust between the president and the people that she represents,” Klobuchar vowed. “You know how important this election is and I can say this: I know you and I will fight for you.”
“I know you” may be one of Klobuchar’s signature lines, but a number of South Carolinians aren’t feeling the same way about her in the runup to the state’s primary on Saturday. “I think she’s likeable, but we don’t know her,” said Sh’Kur Francis, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Lancaster. The faith leader first met Klobuchar in early 2019 over lunch, but has not heard back from the campaign since. “She invested everything in Iowa and New Hampshire, and she saw fruit from that,” Francis said. But Klobuchar’s surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire held little sway with Nevada voters, and Francis predicts the results for her will be similar in South Carolina on Saturday: “I’m expecting the same thing in South Carolina. You can’t expect to do well where you’re not known, and Senator Klobuchar is not a well-known figure here.”
Faith and political leaders across the state who expressed reservations expressed similar doubts about her appeal to African American communities, the dominant voting bloc in South Carolina. “You cannot just show up to black churches or black people a week before this debate here in South Carolina or two weeks before the primary. It’s just an insult and it’s disrespectful,” said South Carolina Democratic National Committee member Clay Middleton said, in response to reports that Klobuchar’s team recently had to ask for a list of black churches in the state. Middleton who was also a South Carolina-based senior adviser for Cory Booker‘s presidential bid, added that he doesn’t believe Klobuchar has a campaign infrastructure in the state. He said that shows “she did not value the folks here in South Carolina” or that she conceded this contest to other candidates. “I think for those 25 people that are going to parachute in, it will be a good experience for them but I don’t think it’s going to penetrate at all.”
Despite exceeding expectations in New Hampshire, Klobuchar finished at the bottom of the pack in Nevada, the first state with a majority of the population who are minorities, with 4.2% support. And the latest CBS News poll shows her at 4% among likely primary voters in South Carolina. Among black voters here, only 2% said the Minnesota senator is their first choice candidate. A political operative with knowledge of the campaign’s operation tells CBS News that Klobuchar’s scant presence in the state has been in part due to limited resources. The source also adds that her newly-expanded state operation “does not take away from the months and months other people spent” traveling across the state. In the days leading up to the South Carolina Democratic primary, CBS News has learned that Klobuchar’s staffers feel stifled by last-minute oversight from campaign headquarters. While Klobuchar currently employs 25 full time staff members in South Carolina, she had fewer than ten in the state prior to the New Hampshire primary. Her nine South Carolina visits included high-profile events like Congressman Jim Clyburn’s “World Famous Fish Fry” and the Galivant’s Ferry Stump event, while she skipped other cattle calls like Betty Henderson’s cook-off. She fielded some criticism last month when she wasn’t on the schedule for the King Day at the Dome, an event she ultimately attended. Her campaign declined a request for interview from CBS News, but said in a statement that she has “continued to staff up in South Carolina as well as every Super Tuesday state” following a “strong finish in the New Hampshire primary.”
“Throughout the cycle, Klobuchar has frequently visited the Palmetto State and has had staff on the ground since June, putting her in a position to compete on Saturday and in Super Tuesday states,” her campaign said. “Additionally, the campaign has conducted sustained outreach in African-American communities across the state, including hosting routine meetings with key faith leaders and activists.” Klobuchar is not without support here. Her pitch on middle- and working-class values has reached some voters. “As long as I’m in South Carolina and she’s still on the ballot, you know, I’m gonna vote for her in the primary. And that’s how I was with Obama too, I didn’t think he would get the nomination. And yet I worked my heart out on his campaign because I liked his value,” said Gretchen Barbatsis who donned an Amy Klobuchar button during the First in the South dinner Monday evening. “I don’t think she’s gonna win the nomination but I’m gonna support her as long as she’s in because I think she represents the values that are important. She’s a real centered person.”
To date, the campaign has invested just under $600,000 in cable and broadcast television ad buys in markets across the state—a total that has gone up by nearly $200,000 in just the past few days. And a pro-Klobuchar Super PAC has spent nearly $1.2 million in ad spending across the state. “I haven’t seen anyone speak for her, I’ve just seen her in passing on the television screen,” undecided voter Pat Wright-Dawson from Charleston told CBS News. “I’m trying to make a sound decision of who I want to go with right now. You try to keep an open mind.” Those open minds proved helpful to Klobuchar in New Hampshire, where over two-thirds of those ultimately in favor of the Minnesota lawmaker decided just days before the primary. But while just 46% of likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina say they’ve definitely made up their mind according to the latest CBS News poll, an additional 45% say they’ve probably come to a decision. Only 7% say they’ll probably end up changing their mind. “Her performances in the debate and in the New Hampshire primary have piqued interest in her again. I just think she’s going to [have to] work at pulling them fully in,” said Kate Franch, chair of the Greenville county Democratic Party Kate Franch.
Two days away from the highly-anticipated South Carolina Democratic primary, Tom Steyer spoke to voters, who packed tightly into a small bistro for his fish fry featuring a guest appearance by comedian talk show host Sheryl Underwood. In a gaggle with press after the event, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell says he told reporters he can’t worry about where he stands in the latest polls, which show him battling with Bernie Sanders for second or third place in the state. “We’ve fallen in love with the Democrats of South Carolina. We’ve seen stuff here that we’ve learned from people that need redress and we are determined to make that happen,” said Steyer in the gaggle. “I’m going to be here win, lose, or draw. I’m not leaving South Carolina. He also talked about how his administration would handle the coronavirus health crisis. He called the“dramatically inadequate and incompetent” and said his administration would invest in science and would respond to global epidemics much earlier than the current administration has in this case. Ahead of the event, Mitchell spoke with event attendees like Rebecca Whetsell, who are still undecided days away from the primary. Whetsell said she’s been attending multiple candidate events searching for the candidate with the “personal touch.” She added, “I’ve been seeing everything on TV but I haven’t been seen a lot of, you know, personal interaction.” Whetsell said she was deciding between Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Sanders but admitted that she was open to hearing what Steyer had to offer. Vera Jenkins, who was sitting across the room during the fish fry said she’s planning to vote for Steyer on Saturday and noted that outside of his investments in the community she appreciates Steyer’s humble beginnings. “He’s been there, he knows what the people want. He started from the bottom, then he’s come up to the top and now that you’re on the top, let the people from the bottom know what you did and help them get there.” Jenkins said that after Saturday, she expects candidates will just “go back to the usual” and “treat is like they want” but she believes Steyer is going to “keep trying to give the people what they need.” When asked if she’s confident Steyer will return no matter what happens in the primary, she said she has a “gut feeling” that he’ll be back.
The Trump campaign announced this week it will open community centers for African Americans in 14 cities across the country, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. The “Black Voices for Trump Community Centers” are billed as a home base for the Trump campaign to engage with Black Americans. The 14 centers are in seven states: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Florida, an important battleground in the general election, will have five of these centers across the state. Mr. Trump only won 8% of the African American vote in 2016, which was higher than Mitt Romney’s 6% in 2012, but the Trump campaign is angling to do better in 2020. However, the campaign may have a steep hill to climb. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that Trump had a 14% approval rating with African Americans.
Since the New Hampshire primary, Andrew Yang has spoken with every 2020 presidential candidate about possible roles and opportunities within each campaign, according to multiple former senior officials within the Yang campaign, say CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga and political unit associate producer Ben Mitchell. The entrepreneur-turned-presidential candidate has not yet committed to backing another presidential campaign and continues to weigh options. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Thursday that Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign courted Yang in recent days, floating the possibility of choosing Yang as his running mate. According to sources, Yang is expected to make an announcement about his political future in the latter part of next week, likely after Super Tuesday.
ON THE ATTACK
A lawyer for former President Obama is asking a pro-Trump super PAC behind an ad attacking Biden to remove the spot from the internet and other media, arguing it misuses a passage from Mr. Obama’s memoir in an effort to mislead viewers. CBSNews.com reporter Melissa Quinn says the ad from the Committee to Defend the President, the super PAC supporting President Trump’s reelection, aired during Tuesday’s Democratic debate and includes material from Mr. Obama’s book, “Dreams From My Father,” published in 1995. The audiobook was released in 2005. “This unauthorized use of President Obama’s name, image, likeness, voice and book passage is clearly intended to mislead the target audience of the ad into believing that the passage from the audiobook is a statement that was made by President Obama during his presidency, when it was in fact a statement made by a barber in a completely different context more than 20 years ago,” Patchen Haggerty, Mr. Obama’s lawyer, wrote in a letter to the group Wednesday. Titled “Enough Empty Promises,” the 30-second spot features side-by-side images of Biden and Mr. Obama and a snippet from the former president’s audiobook. While the ad suggests the statement was made recently and by Mr. Obama, Haggerty said that’s not the case. Rather, the president was recounting a conversation he had with a barber who was commenting on Chicago politics before the election of Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor. The super PAC’s use of the material “constitutes a misappropriation and violation of President Obama’s right of publicity” under state law and violates federal copyright law, he added. “We trust that you understand that our client must protect its rights and prevent the unauthorized and misleading use of President Obama’s name, image, likeness, voice and other intellectual property,” Haggerty wrote.
Haggerty called on the Committee to Defend the President to remove the ad from digital platforms and refrain from airing it on any other medium. The Committee to Defend the President did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The ad remains on the group’s Facebook page.
Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obama, denounced the ad in a statement and stressed that the former president does not plan to endorse a candidate in the primary “because he believes that in order for Democrats to be successful this fall, voters must choose their nominee …But this despicable ad is straight out of the Republican disinformation playbook, and it’s clearly designed to suppress turnout among minority voters in South Carolina by taking President Obama’s voice out of context and twisting his words to mislead viewers,” Hill said. “In the interest of truth in advertising, we are calling on TV stations to take this ad down and stop playing into the hands of bad actors who seek to sow division and confusion among the electorate.” The ad comes ahead of Saturday’s South Carolina primary, where support from African-American voters will be crucial to a strong finish for Biden. Biden has been leading in the Palmetto State and predicts he will win. But Bernie Sanders has narrowed the gap in CBS News’ most recent poll, following his wins in New Hampshire and Nevada, and top-two finish in Iowa.
IN THE HOUSE
The effect of the presidential race on down ballot contests is starting to come into focus, and talk among the candidates about retaining the House majority was heard more than ever in Tuesday night’s debate, says CBS News political unit broadcast associate Aaron Navarro. Bloomberg used the debate to criticize how a Sanders nomination could harm every down ballot race. “Bernie will lose to Donald Trump. And Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red,” he said. “And then, between gerrymandering and appointing judges, for the next 20 or 30 years, we’re going to live with this catastrophe.” As he has done in the past, Buttigieg painted Sanders as someone who could cause the House to flip back to Republican control, specifically targeting the cost of his Medicare for All plan. “I’ll tell you exactly what it adds up to. It adds to four more years of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House, and the inability to get the Senate into Democratic hands,” he said. “If you want to keep the House in Democratic hands, you might want to check with the people who actually turned the House blue, 40 Democrats, who are not running on your platform.” Bloomberg also received some hits from Elizabeth Warren about previously helping elect Republicans, and he pointed to the millions he spent for campaigns to flip the House in 2018. “Twenty-one of those were people that I spent $100 million to help elect. All of the new Democrats that came in, put Nancy Pelosi in charge, and gave the Congress the ability to control this president. I bough—I got them,” he said.
This last quote in particular gave the Republican House campaign arm some day-of material to target vulnerable House Democrats, sending “For Sale” signs to the 40 House members that received donations from Bloomberg. The move received criticism about portraying black House members as “For Sale.” But in the past month the focus from the NRCC has not been Bloomberg, but rather Sanders and how putting “socialism on the ballot” with his potential nomination could help them flip some seats. They still need to gain at least 21 seats, and close a vast fundraising gap with incumbent House Democrats in most of these districts. House Republicans also have a separate story line story line of members leaving Congress. Representative Ralph Abraham, who previously ran for Louisiana’s gubernatorial seat, was the latest one to announce retirement.