Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will miss Friday’s Blue Palmetto Dinner and James Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry in Columbia to take part in a march in his city.
Buttigieg’s campaign announced that he would return to South Bend after speaking Friday morning in Miami at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
"He will be in South Bend to be with the community and participate in a march this evening," Chris Meagher, Buttigieg’s national press secretary, said in an email.
The march comes after a white police officer in South Bend fatally shot a black man on Sunday.
Buttigieg is still expected to speak Saturday morning at the Democratic state convention and a Planned Parenthood forum in Columbia.
Buttigieg would be the youngest and first openly gay president if he is elected to the White House next year. He has surprised many pundits with impressive polling numbers and fundraising prowess.
He has been seeking to forge a connection with black voters in South Carolina who are expected to cast a majority of votes when the state holds the South’s first Democratic presidential primary next February.
But that task may be even more challenging because Buttigieg has faced scrutiny this week for his handling of the fallout from Sunday’s shooting. After leaving the campaign trail to return to South Bend, the mayor did not attend a vigil at the scene of the shooting, and his brief meeting with the victim’s family did not go well, according to published reports.
In addition to Buttigieg’s absence from Friday’s events, here are 10 things to watch as Democrats gather in Columbia this weekend:
Political spotlight on SC as 22 Democratic presidential candidates converge on Columbia
The nation’s political spotlight is on South Carolina as a record-breaking 22 Democratic arrive for a series of events today and Saturday that hundreds of voters and scores of reporters will attend.
They will campaign at the Blue Palmetto Dinner and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry on Friday before speaking Saturday at the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention and a women’s health forum hosted by the political arm of Planned Parenthood.
The events “give us a great opportunity to display the best of the New South,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said during an interview Thursday with The Greenville News and Independent Mail.
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Top issues as Democrats visit SC: Immigration and abortion
Analysis released this week by researchers at the University of South Carolina found that immigration and abortion are dominating public social media conversations in the 2020 race for the presidency both in South Carolina and nationally.
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Other issues such as climate change, tariffs and gun control lag far behind in public social media posts, according to the university’s Social Media Insights Lab at the College of Information and Communications. The lab used used artificial intelligence-powered software to analyze a database of more than 70 million social media mentions nationally — including nearly 300,000 in South Carolina — between Jan. 1 and June 17.
All eyes will be on Joe Biden as he gathers with Democratic rivals
The events in Columbia will mark the first time that Biden has attended a gathering with a large number of his rivals since he announced his candidacy in April. He skipped the Democratic state convention in California last month that 14 of the party’s presidential candidates attended. Biden also was a no-show for a Democratic Hall of Fame event in Iowa earlier this month that drew 19 presidential hopefuls.
The best-known of the Democratic candidates, the former vice president is presently the clear front-runner in the race. But his national and South Carolina poll numbers have started to dip, and Biden has endured a rough couple of weeks that began when he expressed continued support for a ban on federal funding for abortions and then changed his position a day later. Earlier this week, his comments at a fundraiser about working in the past with segregationist senators drew widespread criticism.
"This is a good chance for Biden to get his feet back under him," said Danielle Vinson, a politics and international affairs professor at Furman University.
But this weekend’s events also could pose risks for Biden and his handlers, Vinson said.
"It is going to be harder for his staff to keep him protected from the media," she said.
A total of 151 press credentials have been issued for Saturday’s Democratic state convention, and those journalists will be watching closely when Biden takes the stage as the last speaker shortly before 6 p.m.
Will Elizabeth Warren build on her momentum, and can Bernie Sanders reverse his slide?
Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, has surged past Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, into second place behind Biden in two recent national polls as well as a South Carolina survey conducted last week for the Post and Courier in Charleston.
Warren and Sanders are jockeying for voters who want a candidate with more progressive views than Biden. In the South Carolina poll, Warren is now the most popular candidate among voters in the 18-34 age group. She also has erased the lead that Sanders held over her among black voters, though Biden still leads among that demographic.
Will the time Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have invested in SC pay off?
Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, and Harris, a U.S. senator from California, already have made seven trips to South Carolina this year. Both have made campaign stops in Greenville.
But despite those visits, Booker and Harris remain mired in the single digits in polls conducted in the state. This weekend’s events present an opportunity for them to gain some much-needed traction.
Can a lesser-known candidate score a breakthrough? Probably not
There are a number of presidential hopefuls that South Carolina Democrats are not very familiar with. Could the events on Friday and Saturday lead to a breakthrough for candidates such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper or U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio?
Vinson said the odds of that happening are low, given the amount of attention that Biden and other top-tier candidates will likely receive. But she said the lesser-known candidates will have a chance to see how crowds respond to their pitches.
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What is almost certain is that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock won’t see a spike in his popularity. He is the only Democratic presidential candidate who won’t be in Columbia.
Jim Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry
About 1,100 people are expected to attend the Blue Palmetto Dinner at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center on Friday night. But an even larger crowd is expected to be on hand for Clyburn’s annual fish fry, which will be held a few blocks away at the EdVenture Children’s Museum’s Coble Plaza.
The event has become can’t-miss for serious candidates.
"Every politician that’s worth their salt wants to get up on the stage and get introduced by Jim Clyburn," Jaime Harrison, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party who’s running for U.S. Senate against Republican Lindsey Graham, told The State.
The event will feature 4,400 pounds of fish, 6,400 slices of bread and an open bar. The 22 Democratic presidential candidates will be given a "generous moment" to address the audience.
Big crowd expected at Saturday’s SC Democratic Party convention
A crowd of 1,700 to 2,500 is expected to attend Saturday’s state Democratic convention, which will be an all-day affair. In addition to electing state officers, there will be a tribute to the late U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, who died in April.
But the main event will speeches by 21 presidential candidates, starting with Harris on Saturday morning and concluding several hours later with Biden’s remarks. Candidate Wayne Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, will be at the convention, but his campaign did not make the necessary arrangements for a speaking slot, according to state Democratic Party spokesman Tim Sullivan.
20 candidates to speak at Planned Parenthood Action Fund forum
Twenty of the candidates are expected to field questions Saturday morning at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund forum in downtown Columbia.
The event comes as abortion bans recently enacted in Georgia and Alabama have received national attention.
Abortion protesters are planning a rally outside the forum.
South Carolina’s events set the stage for next week’s first Democratic debate
The events in Columbia will be followed by the first Democratic presidential debate next Wednesday and Thursday in Miami. Twenty candidates will take part in the debate — 10 each night. The three who did not qualify are Bullock, Messam and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.
Vinson said the candidates likely will use their speeches at Saturday’s convention to hone their message for next week’s high-stakes televised debate.
Follow Kirk Brown on Twitter @KirkBrown_AIM