COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Progressive voters in South Carolina are starting to see Elizabeth Warren as a reasonable alternative to Bernie Sanders, according to polls and interviews with voters in the critical early-primary state.
On Friday, at Rep. Jim Clyburn’s annual fish fry, all 22 presidential candidates stood onstage wearing matching blue T-shirts provided by their host. But voters have started to see Warren as being able to differentiate herself from the pack.
“She’s the one who has plans. She’s the one who can articulate her vision for the future. She has more substance than anybody else,” Harriett Harris, a voter volunteering for Warren’s campaign at the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention, told BuzzFeed News.
The admiration for Warren was apparent as she walked onstage Friday to some of the loudest cheers for any candidate. She launched into familiar lines from her stump speech about fighting for the working class, dreaming big, and taking on corporations. Before the fish fry, her supporters gathered in the parking lot of the EdVenture Children’s Museum could be heard chanting, “This is what a Warren stan looks like!” As she told the audience that she and Clyburn had recently introduced legislation to cancel student loan debt, a man in line for the free drinks yelled “I love you, Liz!” back at the senator.
For some progressive voters, like William Lawrence, the South Carolina Democratic Party’s veteran caucus chair who worked for Sanders’ 2016 campaign in South Carolina, their support has switched to Warren.
“She is number one,” Lawrence said, pointing to Warren’s similar progressive positions that drew him to Sanders’ campaign. He also noted Sanders’ past positions on gun control for what helped him make the switch.
“Elizabeth is first and Bernie is second. They haven’t wavered and they’ve changed our party across the entire country. Free college, living wages, free health care? Democrats wouldn’t touch that before, but now those are the common positions in our party.”
Deborah Breedlove, a Democrat who is still undecided but views Warren’s plans favorably, told BuzzFeed News that she feels safer choosing Warren over Sanders when she’s looking toward progressive candidates in the field.
“The thing I have problems with is that we have a candidate that’s registered as an Independent but runs as a Democrat,” Breedlove said. “I think it’s unfair that we have to use our resources for somebody that’s not technically a Democrat.”
During Warren's speech at the state party’s convention on Saturday, the audience cheered long into her introduction to the state’s delegates.
“I come to you today filled with optimism because I’ve been around South Carolina for the last six months, I’ve been around the country for the past six months, and people across this nation understand that it’s time for big structural change in America,” Warren said.
“The time for small ideas is over,” she added. “It’s time for big plans — and yeah, I’ve got some big plans,” she said to applause, launching into the proposals she’d enacted under her wealth tax.
Voters and delegates who spoke with BuzzFeed News over the course of Democratic Party convention weekend consistently pointed to various plans of Warren's that got them interested in her campaign.
“It’s just been so clear, and I can remember the first time I heard about most of them,” Harris added, pointing to Warren’s wealth tax, her childcare plan, and her plan to wipe away student loan debt. “They’re very specific. And anyone can tell you ‘go look at my website,’ but she pulls you in and tells you about it in story form and it sticks with you. She’s just been outshining everybody.”
In a recent Post and Courier–Change Research poll, Warren has surged to second place and switched spots with Sanders, who has dropped to fourth among South Carolina voters.
“The Post and Courier poll that had her surging recently surprised me none,” Amy Hayes, the former chair of the York County Democratic Party and an undecided voter, told BuzzFeed. “I think she decided to stay in it, and people became disenchanted with other candidates, and she’s dominated the news cycles with those plans.”
“She can pull that diverse coalition together, which is hard to do,” Hayes added. “And not just in terms of racial diversity but ideological diversity. She can pull former Bernie supporters in and the middle-class housewives.”
“I think she’s going to be one of the top three left when we get to the end of this,” said Lea Gillis, a South Carolina delegate from Lancaster, South Carolina. “She’s a firecracker and a go-getter. She has big energy, she’s a fighter, and her motto is 'I have a plan for that’ and she really seems to have a plan for that.”
Charles Brave, a South Carolina AFL–CIO leader, who’s still supporting Sanders after his run in 2016, told BuzzFeed News that if Sanders weren’t in the race he would support Warren’s campaign. “I would love to see her and Bernie team up,” Brave said. “They have a similar vision and platform. They’re supporting education, health care, and they strongly support unions.”
The name of the EdVenture Children’s Museum was misstated in an earlier version of this post.