The race is on in South Carolina just days ahead of the state’s “First in the South” presidential primary. National attention has been focused on the area because of its diverse makeup of registered voters. 

Unlike Iowa or New Hampshire, South Carolina will give the 2020 presidential candidates an idea of how well they are likely to fair with registered Black voters throughout the country. And they know this. For the last week, they’ve been in The Palmetto State wooing potential supporters. ESSENCE is on the ground to see them in action.

On Wednesday, six of the 2020 hopefuls joined Rev. Al Sharpton and local faith leaders at a breakfast hosted by the National Action Network. Tom Steyer used this time to officially unveil his plan for Black America. In it he pushes for equal voting rights, reparations for slavery, and criminal justice reform. He also details ways in which he will invest in HBCUs and improve the quality of life for African Americans by making housing, healthcare, and the economy more equitable.

Presidential candidate Tom Steyer discusses his plan for Black America during a speech to South Carolina voters at the National Action Network breakfast.
Presidential candidate Tom Steyer discusses his plan for Black America during a speech to South Carolina voters at the National Action Network breakfast. (Photo: Tanya A. Christian for ESSENCE)

In a one-on-one with ESSENCE, Steyer shared that the plan was necessary because African Americans have, for years, been victims of systemic racism and changes must be made on the federal level to rectify them. He has been deliberate in sharing the message in South Carolina and says it’s because the state is a prime example of how racial injustice has created persistent inequality.

Bernie Sanders has echoed these sentiments throughout his campaign, including yesterday during a rally in North Charleston. The current frontrunner is on the trail with former Ohio Senator Nina Turner. In introducing Sanders she spoke about Medicare For All being a moral right. And pointed out the hypocrisy of Americans who disagree with Sanders’s Medicare For All Plan. 

South Carolina voters gather to hear Sen. Bernie Sanders at the convention center in North Charleston. (Photo: Tanya A. Christian for ESSENCE)

“Everyone wants to know, ‘How you gonna pay for it? How you gonna pay for it?’” she quipped. “It’s funny that when it’s time to bail out Wall Street nobody asks how you gonna pay for it.” She went on to say that the country has the money, “The question is do we have the will?” 

And Sanders wasn’t the only one who brought in a powerful voice to speak on his behalf. At a rally on Wednesday evening, Elizabeth Warren was introduced by Grammy-award winning singer John Legend who said he flew all the way from California because he believes in the Massachusetts Senator.

“We know that racial inequality still runs rampant in our society,” Legend told a completely full theatre at Charleston MusicHall.  “We know that this nation’s original sin of slavery and its centuries-long devaluing of Black lives have had long-lasting effects on the way that black folks live today in 2020. We’ve seen the data.” 

Legend concluded that racial injustice goes beyond numbers and graphs on a page and Sen. Warren uniquely understands that lived experiences have created centuries of trauma and harm that will “require solutions that are specifically targeted to the community.”

Though Legend is convinced of his preferred candidate’s qualifications, Warren in recent polls has continued to come in fourth place among Black voters. She trails Biden, Sanders, and chief stop-and-frisk enforcer, Michael Bloomberg. ESSENCE had one-on-one time with Warren and asked her if she thinks that her electability, a top concern among Black voters, is in question because she’s a woman. 

“The world has changed since 2016,” Warren insists when asked why she believes she could win given the outcome of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Look at the numbers. Women are outperforming men as candidates in competitive elections. That’s just what the numbers show. Women are doing better.” 

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