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Democratic Campaigns Go Nationwide Ahead Of South Carolina And Super Tuesday

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The presidential campaign has suddenly gone nationwide. Yes, the South Carolina primary is getting a lot of attention. Voters head to polls in that state tomorrow, but just three days later is Super Tuesday. Primary voters in 14 states, including here in Colorado, are going to decide which candidates get more than a third of all of the overall delegates available in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. We want to head out on the campaign trail and talk with two of our best political reporters about how the race has changed this week, NPR's Juana Summers and Scott Detrow.

Hey, you two.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: First tell me about where you both are. Juana, you go first.

SUMMERS: I am in Columbia, S.C., ahead of a Tom Steyer rally here, one of his last events in the state. And he's got quite a musical crew with him.

SHAPIRO: And I imagine then that means the bus I'm hearing in the background is Scott.

DETROW: Yes, Ari. This is a location you're very familiar with from your time on the campaign trail. I'm on a crowded press bus making our way in between Bernie Sanders campaign events, making my way to Columbia, talking to you draped under a winter coat in order to knock down that noise just a little bit.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) OK. Well, since you are both in South Carolina, let's start there. The week began with some worry for Joe Biden coming off of Bernie Sanders' big win in Nevada. Biden's lead was being threatened in some polls. Let's listen to what he told a voter this week in Georgetown, S.C., who asked if Biden would win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Yes...

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: ...Because South Carolina is the trajectory to winning the Democratic nomination.

SHAPIRO: Firm yes there. Juana, what is the outlook for Joe Biden on the eve of this contest?

SUMMERS: Yeah, Joe Biden and his supporters are really enthusiastic. They feel strongly about his position here. Recent polling out of Monmouth University shows him having a double-digit lead over the next-closest candidate. That's Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and then the billionaire investor Tom Steyer.

I talked to some of his surrogates ahead of that debate and they were promising a double-digit win. And I'm told that they only feel stronger about that now that he has the endorsement of House majority whip Jim Clyburn who is known as a kingmaker here in South Carolina. I talked to a lot of undecided voters, and many of them mentioned that endorsement as they're thinking through how to make up their minds about Joe Biden in the state.

SHAPIRO: Well, Scott, you're with the Sanders campaign, and Bernie Sanders did really well in Nevada last week with voters of color, including Latinos, expanding his base. Has that changed the campaign's strategy over the last week?

DETROW: It has a little bit. Initially, South Carolina had been the early state that the Sanders campaign was least optimistic about. You have seen a bit of a shift, more events in South Carolina than had initially been planned. You've also heard Bernie Sanders criticize Joe Biden a little bit more than usual in the last few days, which makes sense because he's the front-runner here.

The Sanders campaign thinks that the Nevada results validated their argument that they have this broad coalition of support. That's something that Sanders points to at every rally. And just like in other states, Sanders is appealing a lot lately to younger voters, people who may not have voted in every election before. Here he was in Richmond, Va., yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: Young people are going to play a more profound role in this election than in any election in history.

(APPLAUSE)

SANDERS: The young generation in America today - and everybody should be proud of this young generation - is the most progressive young generation in the history of America.

DETROW: And that's something they've talked a lot about. But even with that big win in Nevada, that brand-new coalition of new voters, of first-time voters, has yet to fully materialize as much as the campaign keeps promising. So that's one thing we'll be looking for as we see the results coming in from South Carolina.

SHAPIRO: Juana, you mentioned billionaire activist Tom Steyer who has spent a lot of money advertising on television in South Carolina, not so much in other primary states. Why is he so focused on this state?

SUMMERS: Yeah, Ari, he's really betting everything here. He's been a fixture in the state for some time. Even before Tom Steyer was a presidential candidate, he came here a bunch but due to his activism on climate change and his work with the need-to-impeach movement, which ran all those ads that we remember about impeaching President Trump. But he spent about $17 million in South Carolina alone on ads that it's really hard to miss if you turn on your TV here.

He's banking on getting a big share of the black vote, and he's also gotten some prominent endorsements recently, including from Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who is the longest-serving legislator in the South Carolina statehouse.

GILDA COBB-HUNTER: Joe Biden's support was a mile wide and an inch deep, and that's not to be offensive. It's just being real. And as more campaigns were able to get into South Carolina, deliver their message, ramp up their organizations, those numbers started going down.

SUMMERS: She's a paid adviser to the Steyer campaign. His campaign believes that he's best positioned to chip away at the strong black support that Joe Biden has had here.

SHAPIRO: With so much about to be decided over just a few days, what are each of you most watching for as we head through South Carolina and into Super Tuesday? Juana.

SUMMERS: You know, one of the big things I'm watching for is whether two candidates we haven't talked about yet - former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar - are able to demonstrate that they can get significant support from nonwhite voters. In the results in the states have already voted, they haven't demonstrated that at the levels of folks like Senator Bernie Sanders or former Vice President Joe Biden. So that's one of the big things I'm watching as the calendar moves ahead to states that are more diverse.

SHAPIRO: And Scott.

DETROW: One state in particular, Massachusetts, Sanders is making a play there, spending money, campaigning there. He's clearly trying to beat Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. If you lose your home state, as 2016 showed us, in a few cases, it is very hard to continue your campaign.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Detrow and Juana Summers covering the presidential campaign in South Carolina.

Thank you both.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

DETROW: All right. Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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