VP Kamala Harris tells SC voters at AME retreat they need to organize to elect Biden again

By: - January 7, 2024 11:43 am

Vice President Kamala Harris touted the work of the Joe Biden administration during a brief speech in Myrtle Beach on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2023 (Abraham Kenmore/SC Daily Gazette)

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — It’s time for South Carolina Democrats to once again “roll up their sleeves” and organize for political victory, Vice President Kamala Harris told an enthusiastic crowd Saturday on the third anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riot.

Alluding to South Carolina voters catapulting Joe Biden’s bid for the White House four years ago, Harris asked the audience mostly of Black women to help make sure he gets a second term.

“You showed up to vote, and you organized your friends and family members and neighbors to do the same, and it is because of you that Joe Biden is president of the United States,” she said to boisterous applause in a packed conference center ballroom. “I’m here, of course, to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Biden’s blow-away win in South Carolina’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary, credited largely to the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, followed fourth- and fifth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. This time, South Carolina is leading the contest as the first primary recognized by national Democrats and the first with Biden on the ballot.

“In this moment, our nation once again needs your leadership,” Harris said in her address during an annual retreat of the 7th Episcopal District African Methodist Episcopal Church Women’s Missionary Society at a beachfront resort.

“As you have done for generations, to defend our most sacred ideals, to continue to organize, energize and make your voices heard,” she told the audience of more than 1,200 people.

Harris led the speech with a list of what’s happened over the last three years to help poor and Black communities: Expanding rural access to high-speed internet, removing lead pipes, funding for historically Black colleges, and the appointment of more Black judges, including the first Black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson

Then she pivoted to contrasting the administration’s positions with the Republicans.

“Let’s pull up a split screen,” Harris said, her remarks punctuated by applause. “On one side, they want to ban books. On the other side, we want to ban assault weapons. They want the government to tell a woman what to do with her body. We trust women to know what is in their own interest.”

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The speech was held on the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. But she didn’t touch on it until near the end of her less-than-20-minute speech.

“They used violence and fear to try to overturn the results of a free and fair election, and to overrule the votes of millions of Americans,” she said. “On that day, we saw violence, chaos, and lawlessness.”

It was Harris’ first visit to South Carolina since filing the paperwork Nov. 10 to put Biden on the ballot for the state’s Democratic presidential primary.

Officially, it was a White House event, not a campaign rally. But her address focused on why Biden should be re-elected.

‘First-in-the-nation’ primary

Biden faces two extreme-long-shot candidates on the Feb. 3 ballot: U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota and self-help author Marianne Williamson.

Biden’s win is not in question. But state and national Democrats are making a big push to get Democrats to the polls here as a show of support in a state pushed to the front of the voting calendar largely because of its racial diversity.

About a quarter of South Carolinians are Black compared to just 2% in New Hampshire and 4.4% in Iowa, according to census data. Black voters make up an even larger share of the Democratic base in the Palmetto State.

In 2020, more than half of those voting in the South Carolina Democratic primary were minorities, according to state election data.

Biden needs to shore up their support. Recent national polls show a big drop in enthusiasm for Biden among Black voters.

Harris’ speech is just the start of a campaign push for Biden in South Carolina.

Upcoming visits

On Monday, Biden will give a campaign speech at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where an avowed white supremacist gunned down nine Black worshippers at the conclusion of a Wednesday night Bible study in 2015. The historic church is known as Mother Emanuel because it’s the South’s oldest AME church.

The state Democratic Party’s get-out-the-vote bus tour kicks off Jan. 13.

Harris returns to South Carolina two days later as the featured speaker for the NAACP’s annual King Day at the Dome event at the Statehouse honoring Martin Luther King Jr. — an event that’s become a must for Democratic presidential campaigns.

The South Carolina Republican Party said the visits will not make a difference for who wins the Palmetto State in November. The Republican presidential primary is Feb. 24.

“It’s no coincidence that both Joe and Kamala are making plans to visit less than a month away from the Democratic primary,” state Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick said in a statement. “Along with the majority of Americans, South Carolinians are sick and tired of what this administration has done to our country.”

Some of the attendees interviewed by the SC Daily Gazette said they already planned to vote for Biden in the primary next month. Others said they were still making up their mind. One person who spoke to the news outlet was unaware anyone else was challenging Biden in a primary.

“I know it’s all targeted at re-elections,” Charlene Nathaneil, 54, of Swansea, said about Harris’ visit.

The Women’s Missionary Society member said she thought Harris was speaking to the organization to increase African American voter turnout, with the size of the AME church making it a substantial force.

She plans to vote in the Democratic primary, although she said she is still looking at all the candidates.

“I thought it was phenomenal,” Amber Watson, 25, of Kingstree, said after the speech.

She definitely plans to vote for Biden in the Democratic primary.

“I enjoy seeing a woman of color, like myself, and I think she’s doing a great job in her current role,” Watson said.

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Abraham Kenmore
Abraham Kenmore

Abraham Kenmore is a reporter covering elections, health care and more. He joins the SC Daily Gazette from The Augusta Chronicle, where he reported on Georgia legislators, military and housing issues.