Bernie Sanders is eager to come to South Carolina — and unapologetic about his plans, even as some Democrats worry about the timing of his visit to their state.
“Wherever I go, I get controversy,” the Vermont senator told McClatchy in a Capitol Hill interview on Thursday, responding to fears that his upcoming rally will unfairly tie more moderate Democratic candidates to the prominent liberal’s politically polarizing agenda.
Sanders was invited to the state by the South Carolina chapter of Our Revolution, a group born out of Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. The organization is holding its annual issues conference in Columbia on Oct. 20. Sanders, who is said to be mulling a 2020 bid, will headline a rally focused on “health care inequality in the United States.”
It’s his only scheduled appearance in South Carolina, but Republicans are overjoyed he will be participating in an event designed to energize voters ahead of the November elections.
Gov. Henry McMaster’s chief of staff, Trey Walker, tweeted that Sanders’ upcoming visit was tantamount to “Electoral Christmas in October,” adding that the South Carolina Democratic Party was “re-gifting an unwanted seasonal fruitcake to South Carolina voters right before Election Day.”
Sanders won 26 percent in the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary two years ago.
Soon after Sanders’ visit to South Carolina was announced, McMaster’s reelection campaign released a new digital ad linking Democratic gubernatorial candidate James Smith to Sanders’ “Medicare for all” platform.
“James Smith said he supports Bernie Sanders’ $32 TRILLION government-run health care plan, but refuses to say how we’d pay for it,” said McMaster in a tweet accompanying the ad. “Now, Bernie is coming to South Carolina to help James’ campaign. South Carolinians can’t afford James Smith’s costly liberal agenda.”
According to the Associated Press, Smith said he did not support the “Medicare for All” proposal and would not be appearing with Sanders at the Columbia rally. McMaster’s campaign said that Smith said during the primary he did support Sanders’ platform.
Sanders shrugged at the furor. “Republicans lie all the time,” he said. “Believe me, I’m being linked to candidates in states where I’m not going. They can say anything — look, Republicans can say anything they want to say.”
He didn’t, however, have a response for Democrats like former South Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Amanda Loveday, who believe Sanders’ appearance in the state will be “immensely unhelpful” as the party takes pains to appeal to more moderate voters.
Sanders said he had not spoken to Democratic candidates in South Carolina, and emphasized he was not coordinating with other campaigns in the state. His South Carolina trip, he said, was one of nine states he planned to visit in the weeks before the midterms.
“Our Revolution is an extraordinary group rallying young people. They invited me there,” said Sanders. “My job is to mobilize working people and young people to stand up and fight back against the reactionary Trump agenda, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Saloni Sharma, the South Carolina Democratic Party’s communications director, underscored that Sanders would be participating in his own event.
But, she added, “We think his visit will draw attention to how tens of thousands of South Carolinians don’t have health care because Governor McMaster and Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid for political gain.”
The South Carolina Democratic Party has not shied away from associating itself with other high-profile Democrats who are swinging through the state to help boost Democratic voter turnout — Democrats who, like Sanders, are likely looking to make connections in the early 2020 primary state in case they decide to run for president.
The state party sent out an email press release on Thursday announcing upcoming rallies and fundraisers to be headlined by former Vice President Joe Biden and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey will be participating in official party events as well.
The South Carolina Democratic Party has also not hesitated to send out special “messages,” or fundraising appeals, to supporters ostensibly written by prominent Democrats with progressive pedigrees. One email was recently sent out from possible 2020 presidential contender and Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren. A more recent plea came from Alyssa Milano, an actress and liberal activist, to donate to the party to defeat Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2020.
Asked what he thought of Sanders coming to South Carolina, Graham smiled.
“We like Bernie.”
The state party did not send out an official email announcing the Sanders visit.