Last week's poll of Iowa voters had everyone on the right, left and center going bananas about the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with talk of new front runners emerging and one-time favorites sinking.
But while an Iowa poll is indeed a great conversational starter, and good fodder for political warriors online, the reality is that Iowa will not decide who takes on Trump in 2020. Instead, the road to heaven, and to that temporary public housing unit at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, runs through God’s Country: South Carolina.
If you plan on being president come 2021, you need to realize a simple fact as soon as possible: whoever wins South Carolina will not only likely be our Democratic Nominee, but also has a very strong chance of being the 46th President.
That’s because one of the core ingredients to being a winning Democratic candidate is winning the most loyal voting bloc in the party: the African-American vote. It’s no secret that South Carolina’s “First in the South” status is key in that regard. Roughly 60% of the voters who will cast their vote in its Democratic primary will be African American, and when you look at the states that follow, a number of them reflect similar voting demographics.
History has taught us that you can win the nomination while losing in Iowa and competing well in other early states, because the battleground, the true battleground, is in the Palmetto State.
It was here where Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign went into the stratosphere, winning 55% of the vote — more than double that of Hillary Clinton, who came in second, and triple that of North Carolina’s John Edwards, who received just 2% of the non-white vote. Days later, he ended his campaign. Eight years later, it was in South Carolina where Hillary Clinton won an even more decisive victory over Bernie Sanders, picking up 73% of the vote after the two had an almost dead heat in Iowa.
“It was her landslide support in the South that propelled, sustained, and secured Clinton's bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination,” political scientist Seth McKee wrote in a study of the 2016 race in the South.
Of course, winning in South Carolina is easier said than done. Our primary isn’t won — it’s earned. You have to show up early, invest early, and organize early. You need to be focused on bread and butter issues, and you need to be showing up in the barbershops, beauty salons, living rooms, worship services, — and yes, Lizard Thicket— with a message that resonates with working families.
You’ll be taking your message to one of the poorest states in America, with more than 1.7 million South Carolinians — over 37% of the population — living in or near poverty. One in three jobs pays less than $25,000 a year. It means the candidate who speaks directly to issues that matter to the working poor will be well-positioned to win not only in South Carolina, but in many of the states that follow.
Winning here requires generating a sense of grassroots energy and excitement that crosses the racial gap, exciting working-class white voters as well as the African-American base. That powerful combination could not only win them the White House — it could help break Congressional gridlock and fundamentally change our nation for the better.
So, come early and come often. South Carolina welcomes you. To quote the old Democratic call and response spiritual made famous in Greenwood, South Carolina during the 2008 Democratic primary: we’re fired up and ready to go.
Antjuan Seawright is the founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy. He was an advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016.