ROCK HILL, South Carolina: Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton were jockeying on Saturday for the support of key groups in early voting South Carolina that anchored President Barack Obama's coalition.
Sanders tailored his message of economic and social inclusion to the state's Democratic Women's Council, highlighting his support for gender pay equity, paid family leave and access to abortion and birth control.
"Make no mistake about it, the right wing in this country is continuing its war on women," Sanders said, kicking off a day of events that will put the Vermont senator and the former secretary of state in front of women, African-Americans and gay rights activists.
After Sanders' speech, former North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan endorsed Clinton. Hagan, who lost her re-election bid in 2014, praised Clinton as someone who "can get things done," adding that, "Hillary is passionate about the issues that matter to hard-working families."
Women and black voters are crucial in this early voting state, part of the Republican-dominated Deep South where white men have largely abandoned Democrats. Sanders trails Clinton by wide margins among both groups in South Carolina, which hosts the South's first primary on Feb. 27. Clinton is counting on South Carolina as a firewall with polls showing Sanders more competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire which lead off the nominating process.
Sanders never directed his arguments on women against Clinton, focusing squarely on Republicans. He decried Republicans' "horrific attacks" on Planned Parenthood as "unacceptable," calling the provider of women's health care, including abortions, an "incredible" organization.
"There is a counterrevolution going on" to roll back gender equality, he said, pointing to history and the role women have played in social movements. "Women have been front and center in every one of our progressive victories," he said, mentioning abolition of slavery, the labor movement and the civil rights movement. "Our struggles are very, very far from over."
Sanders is scheduled to campaign later Saturday in the capital city of Columbia before concluding with an evening town hall in Aiken.
Clinton, who is vying to be the nation's first female chief executive, will host an afternoon rally in heavily African-American Orangeburg. She will speak Saturday evening in Columbia at a dinner hosted by state's largest gay rights organization.
The events follow a Friday Democratic candidates forum at Winthrop University in which Sanders, Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley each pitched themselves as the best standard-bearer for progressive policies.
The weekend highlights the electoral dichotomy Democrats face heading into 2016.
In presidential elections, demographic shifts have led the party to concentrate on women, nonwhites and younger voters, even as they pitch their policy positions as favoring opportunity for all. Yet across the South, and the many other states lying between the Democratic strongholds of the Northeast and West Coast, that effort hasn't translated to victories in congressional or state elections.
The result is that Democrats have won 5 out of the last 6 presidential popular votes, while Republicans have amassed House and Senate majorities, 31 governorships and outright control of 30 state legislatures. From the Carolinas westward to Oklahoma and Texas, Republicans hold every U.S. Senate seat, governor's seat and control every legislative chamber in the South.
On Friday, Clinton, O'Malley and Sanders juggled those competing realities. They played heavily to African-Americans, mentioning voting rights, criminal justice changes and the Black Lives Matter movement that arose in response to police killings of blacks. Sanders detailed his work as a college student protesting the University of Chicago's segregated housing. They emphasized their support for tougher gun restrictions, environmental stewardships and gay rights.
But they also acknowledged that Democrats must reclaim working-class white voters if they want to build the party beyond the White House. The answers, they agreed, rest in economic policies.
"The Republican Party dominates in the South. We know that," Clinton said. "We need to understand more about why people are not voting at all ... or why other people don't trust the Democratic Party or the progressive approach to solve these problems."
Updated Date: Nov 08, 2015 03:45:58 IST