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How South Carolina’s black voters feel about 2020 Democrats

South Carolina’s primary marks an early and critical test of support from black voters, which is why 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have already held more than 400 events in the Palmetto State. Yamiche Alcindor reports on how the contenders are working to win over voters of color.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    South Carolina's primary is an early and critical test of support from black voters. That is why Democratic presidential candidates have already held more than 400 events in the Palmetto State.

    Yamiche Alcindor is back to report on how the 2020 hopefuls still have a lot of voters to win over.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In North Charleston, South Carolina, Royal Missionary Baptist Church has seen its fair share of presidential candidates.

  • Rev. Isaac Holt:

    Some people say we need a change in the nation's highest office. Amen.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Reverend Isaac Holt isn't making any endorsements. He believes the best way to help his members decide who to support is to give them options.

  • Rev. Isaac Holt:

    Let's receive sister Kamala Harris.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So, he's welcoming the candidates to show up in person and speak to his more than 3,000 parishioners.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.:

    Good morning. Good morning, Royal. Good morning.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, California Senator Kamala Harris is taking a turn.

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Yes, we must love thy neighbor, but let's define and be clear about who is our neighbor. Our neighbor is not just the person that lives next door. We learn and know everybody is our neighbor, including that man by the side of the road who may be afflicted, who may have been rejected.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Black voters, like those at church this morning, made up more than 60 percent of the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate in 2016.

    That means the path to the presidential nomination runs straight through communities like this one. But Harris is still struggling to break through here. She's stuck in single digits in recent polls. She trails former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

    But she is ahead of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

    What do you make of the fact that there are two white male candidates, both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who have more support in the African-American community?

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    A lot of it has to do with the fact that they are known, and we are still introducing ourselves. And there is still a long way to go in this campaign to be able to do that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For a number of the senator's Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority sisters, many sitting in the front row of church, the candidate showing up here is an important step.

  • Loretta Jenkins Sumter:

    You need to start grassroots. And I think her infusion into the community like this is the best way to go.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But she has some work to do here?

  • Loretta Jenkins Sumter:

    She has some work to do. She needs to interface more, be it in this community, the African-American community, the Hispanic community, wherever.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The South Carolina primary is just five months away. That gives candidates precious little time to make in-roads with the biggest voting bloc in the Democratic Party here.

    Coming to a historically black community like Liberty Hill in North Charleston is a prime opportunity. After the Civil War, freed African-Americans founded this neighborhood. Today, it's holding its first annual reunion.

    Hester McFadden helped plan the celebration.

  • Hester McFadden:

    We thought it was necessary to bring together folks so that they could learn about the history of this community. All too often in this country, a lot of the African-American communities are fading away, for whatever reasons, gentrification and for a lot of other reasons.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In this neighborhood, politics and fellowship are intertwined.

  • Shamekia Desaussure:

    You got like 20 candidates running at this point. To read up on 20 different people, that's too many people at this point.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Tell me a little bit about who you're thinking you like for the 2020 election?

  • Terry Hart:

    I like Biden.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Why?

  • Terry Hart:

    I like Biden because I think he will still have a lot of what Obama did.

  • Thomas Alstom:

    I'm hoping Elizabeth Warren actually succeeds in her bid for the nomination. You know, actually, I like quite a few of them. I think we have got a great team. Biden is all right, but I think Biden and Bernie are a little past the lifespan, you know? Cory Booker, he's — you know, I mean, he's pretty good.

  • Shamekia Desaussure:

    Talking about Harris, so, I — I'm just not connecting with her at all.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Some black voters said they don't trust Harris because of her background as a prosecutor.

  • Shamekia Desaussure:

    What I have read so far about her, they were saying that she was kind of harsh on African-Americans, especially on drug charges and things like that.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So how is she trying to change this perception?

  • Sen. Kamala Harris:

    Look, first of all, let's just back up, because here's the thing. I am the only one on the stage who decided to jump in the fire at a very young age in my life and do what I could to reform the system from the inside.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Hester and her daughter Stephanie represent a generational divide that is showing up in polls. Like most older black voters, Hester is strongly in the Joe Biden camp. She likes his connection to former President Barack Obama.

    Stephanie likes Biden, but she also likes Sanders, and her mind isn't quite made up yet.

    There are times when African-Americans are given this message of criminal justice: I want to come to your church and talk about these other things.

    Is there pandering that you worry about?

  • Stephanie McFadden:

    Absolutely.

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