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Voters ‘thinking strategically’ in South Carolina primary

As voters headed to the polls during Saturday's South Carolina primary, many were concerned that their vote would help select a Democratic presidential candidate with the capacity to defeat President Trump. Gavin Jackson, host and public affairs reporter for public television station South Carolina ETV, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss what’s on voters’ minds.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For the latest on the South Carolina primary, I'm joined now by Gavin Jackson, host and public affairs reporter for public television station SCETV. Thanks for being with us. So you went to the polls this morning. Talk to some of those early bird voters. What was on their mind?

  • Gavin Jackson:

    Thanks, Hari. Yeah, I was. I went to several polling locations in South Carolina, in Columbia, South Carolina, here in the central part of the state, and talked to a wide variety of people. And I remember talking to one woman early in the morning and I asked her who she voted for. And she said, "well, I was debating between my heart, my conscious and my heart won". And her heart-vote was for Senator Elizabeth Warren. But her brain was telling her that maybe she needs to think a bit more strategically. But even then, she didn't know who she wants to vote for because that was between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. So people are thinking strategically down here in South Carolina, thinking to Super Tuesday and beyond and thinking about that nomination and who can beat Donald Trump, because electability is the top issue on voters minds down here. And people overall, the folks that I talk to, black/white, were very big on, of course, backing whoever the nominee is going to be. You have that Senator Bernie Sanders, even though some folks I talked to were not very big on Senator Sanders and his proposals there, they're there to get behind him if he's the nominee.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Do they see the importance of it playing out, given that there wasn't kind of, you know, overwhelming victories in all the previous states? Do they know the kind of scrutiny and spotlight that they're under?

  • Gavin Jackson:

    Yeah, definitely. You know, South Carolina always plays kind of that determining role, there's some clarity and it's funny because I did talk to our chairman of the Democratic Party here after the debate on Tuesday in Charleston and asked him, do you know travel, did we get any clarity to dinner tonight? And he said, "no, but we have clarity at 7 p.m. on Saturday." So when the polls close tonight, 7:00 p.m., we'll definitely start getting some idea about who might be leading the pack here. Obviously, Bernie Sanders has the momentum coming in here. But Joe Biden, polls are showing that he's having a pretty strong resurgence. A lot of people are cutting out to just Joe getting back on the ground here in South Carolina this past week. You know, he was one of the few candidates that actually went to church here on this past Sunday, which is really kind of surprise when we look at how candidates are treating South Carolina this go around. I mean, several candidates aren't even in the state today, even if they're you know, Bernie Sanders is not going be in the state today. He might come in second place, but won't be giving a speech from South Carolina. Meanwhile, Joe Biden and Tom Steyer will be in the state. And so if folks are noticing, they are paying attention, they watch that debate. They've been seeing ads on TV, of course, just, you know, besieged by ads. And then also, you know, voting with people that they that they've known. And when you see someone like Congressman Jim Clyburn giving that endorsement, folks take note of things like that and they do vote with her heart.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mm hmm. Well, what about the endorsement of African-Americans, prominent African-Americans in South Carolina? How much of a sway does that have versus people recognizing a face or even just seeing one on TV?

  • Gavin Jackson:

    And, you know, I would say that those endorsements have been very important, we've seen a lot of black legislators get involved and back some major candidates, specifically Tom Steyer, which is another reason why we haven't seen Steyer do so well here in South Carolina, making those inroads with members of the black community, which is just so critical to winning South Carolina. And that's only we saw, because Tom has been on the ground here a lot. He's been on the airwaves a lot. Like we said, you know, kids go on YouTube. They know who Tom Steyer is because his ads, pre-roll all the time. So it's really just interesting to see just how much traction and saturation he's been getting and whether that will turn to votes. But, yes, you know, those endorsements matter because those those filter out to the community with leaders, faith leaders and others, and word gets around.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Finally, I want to ask, Donald Trump was there as part of his strategy seems to be to go to these places where the votes are happening the night before the vote or the two nights before the vote. Any impact about that?

  • Gavin Jackson:

    I don't I don't think we've seen much of an impact from that, Hari. I think, you know, I will tell you, I was doing no editing a package either day. And looking back to last fall when present, Donald Trump was here in Columbia at a historically black college the same weekend as a slate of Democratic presidential candidates were here to speak to. So that was the big ruffle, I think, and big impact that Donald Trump has had on that on this race so far in terms of him coming to south. I think, you know, obviously Republicans were pretty hyped up about that. But in terms of affecting the Democratic turnout, not so much. And even I even talked to a Republican voter today who voted for Joe Biden, not Bernie Sanders, as so many have been talking about Republicans would be doing to effect this turnout to help maybe propel Bernie Sanders to become the nominee. This man was saying Bernie Sanders is the worst thing for the country. So he wanted to make sure he was backing Joe Biden and since we have open primaries here.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Gavin Jackson of South Carolina ETV, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Gavin Jackson:

    Thanks, Hari.

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