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Tamara Keith and Thelisha Eaddy on South Carolina’s significance for 2020 Democrats

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Thelisha Eaddy of South Carolina Public Radio join Lisa Desjardins to discuss the latest political news, including Pete Buttigieg’s response to a shooting in his city, how Joe Biden’s comments about working with segregationists were received by black voters in South Carolina and reaction to another sexual assault allegation against President Trump.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And this all means, of course, it's time for Politics Monday. I'm joined by Tamara Keith of NPR, who also co-hosts "The NPR Politics Podcast." And Thelisha Eaddy from South Carolina Public Radio, she joins us from Columbia, a city close to my heart.

    Thank you both for joining us.

    Let's start right away, Tam, with you and Mr. Buttigieg.

    We have seen a lot of strength from him in this campaign. What did this weekend tell us about his potential weaknesses?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, he has a day job.

    And, in his day job — he has been selling himself as somebody who is this mayor from this mid-sized, small-sized city, and touting that executive experience.

    But, this weekend, this problem that has overtaken his city, this challenge, highlights that he is not particularly well-known with African-American voters. He has not been able to really gain traction with them in a lot of places. And he is struggling in his own city to deal with a problem that many mayors have had to deal with.

    But it comes at a time when, you know, everyone else is in South Carolina trying to appeal to an electorate that is 60 percent African-American on the Democratic side.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thelisha, it's interesting. Buttigieg has been doing generally well in South Carolina. He's number three or four, depending on how you look at it.

    But I'm curious, how did voters there, especially black voters, for whom police shootings is a very personal issue, how did they view his decision to stay home this weekend?

  • Thelisha Eaddy:

    It's really interesting.

    Thousands of people came out this past weekend to hear these candidates talk about how they will serve them, the American people, and the issues that they care about. So over the weekend, at the fish fry, when I was talking with people, these voters were telling me that they saw his absence as a leader putting his people, his home first.

    And I think this really resonated with black voters here in South Carolina. The reason why he was absent is also something that black voters are paying attention to and can appreciate. It's an issue that resonates very strongly not just with African-American voters, but voters of all ethnic races in the country, here in South Carolina and also across the country.

    Unfortunately, we have seen many people of color shot and killed by some police officers. It happened here in South Carolina in April of 2015 with Walter Scott. And so I think African-Americans saw his absence as a leader who decided to do his job, to take care of his constituents, and I think they're seeing it as a bellwether as well.

    If he's doing his job well now as a mayor, he will do his job well as president. He will take care of us and the issues that we care about.

    And I think that's what voters were really expressing this weekend. They were really excited to see all of the candidates, but I don't think that he took a major hit here in South Carolina because he wasn't here on Friday.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let's talk about the man leading the pack in South Carolina, Thelisha, Joe Biden.

    A lot of talk early in the week about a rocky start, and, of course, these comments about civility and his work in the past with some segregationist senators. How did that or didn't affect voters particularly black voters at the fish fry? What do they think of Biden after that and after seeing him in person?

  • Thelisha Eaddy:

    You know, that was really interesting.

    Yes, Biden was in the press a lot this past week because of those comments, but also something else he got was some support from some high-ranking African-American political and community leaders.

    I did get a chance to talk with a range of people at the fish fry, from younger voters to older voters, and some of them did say that they were put off by his comments, and these concerns cut across generational lines. Again, young people and older people said, I just can't get with the comments. I think other candidates handled the comments or they speak respectfully about racial issues.

    But there were a lot of people who said, yes, I didn't agree with what he said, but it wasn't enough for me to cut him off.

    And, again, those concerns or those issues cut across generational lines as well, from the very young, those people in college, recent grads, and even a 65-year-old Army veteran in the Lowcountry area. They said that they're either leaning toward Biden or they're with him all the way, and they're not ready to count him out yet.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tam, we're talking a lot about South Carolina, but there are many reasons for that.

    What did we — what do you think of the other top-tier candidates who are trying to win in South Carolina, Warren, Booker, Harris? What are they doing or not doing well?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and Booker and Harris are banking a lot on South Carolina. They look at that.

    I mean, they're campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, but South Carolina is a state that they are banking on to help push them into Super Tuesday and some of these other Southern states and California that are on the ballot after South Carolina.

    Warren is continuing to sort of notch up and generate excitement as she goes. She's got sort of a slow burn going, and she's on Bernie Sanders' heels in some way, but it's not a horse race.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thelisha, one more South Carolina question.

    It's notable that, in the last two Democratic primaries, we saw blowouts. Barack Obama first and then Hillary Clinton just decimated the field when it came to voting day.

    Do you see that kind of galvanization potential in — this time around?

  • Thelisha Eaddy:

    The potential, yes.

    Here's the thing. When I talk with voters, they are telling me that I'm throwing my support behind this particular candidate, and I am going to do everything that I can to make sure that this candidate is the nominee, but, in case that doesn't happen, I will support whoever that nominee is.

    Regardless of who I talked with, males, females, young voters, older voters, that was what they said. There were camps of people spread out throughout downtown Columbia all weekend long, and they had hair signs and they were cheering for their candidates. But they let me know that they were very, very serious that, whoever the nominee is, they will support.

    That's a little different from what we saw back in 2016, especially with Bernie Sanders supporters. I think those supporters felt disenfranchised or ignored by the process. I'm not getting that this time around, and I think that's speaking to how excited voters are about the opportunity or the potential of getting new administration in the White House.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's interesting.

    Tam, I'm going to switch topics right now. And put on your White House correspondent's hat.

    On Friday, we saw new accusations from a writer. Her name is E. Jean Carroll. She publicly accused the president of attacking her in the 1990s in a department store. Her description of what happened fits the legal definition of rape. And her friends from the time say that she brought up this attack soon after it happened.

    The president denies it. He says she's just trying to sell a book.

    But, again, we have perhaps the most serious allegation against him to date. It is he said/she said. Do you think there is political repercussions from this potentially, or no?

  • Tamara Keith:

    There are familiar contours to this, a credible accusation against President Trump.

    There have been numerous credible accusations against him by numerous women over time. And President Trump always blanketly denies it, and then where does it go from there?

    There was the "Access Hollywood" video. There was — where he talked about assault and said, you can do it if you're a star.

    And so what you have here is, views are formed. People have — people weren't persuaded by the last numerous credible allegations are unlikely to be persuaded by this one.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK, Tamara Keith.

    And I also know you want to tell Grateful Dead fans last week, when you compared a Trump rally to a Grateful Dead concert, that you understand where they're coming from.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And I apologize for the error.

    The Grateful Dead, it turns out, do not play greatest hits when they hold their concerts.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK, great.

    Tamara Keith at NPR, Thelisha Eaddy of South Carolina Public Radio, thank you both.

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