COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina will take center stage in the 2020 race this weekend, as 22 presidential hopefuls shift their focus away from Iowa and New Hampshire to this critical early primary state.
Nearly the entire field of Democratic candidates — aside from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska — are set to appear at House Majority Whip James Clyburn’s, D-S.C., annual fish fry, in what is likely to be the largest gathering of contenders before the first debate.
“This is going to be the biggest fish fry we’ve ever had,” Rep. Clyburn told NBC News, with a laugh. “I don’t know if they’re going to be able to produce enough fish for us.”
The fish fry, an event Rep. Clyburn started nearly three decades ago to say thank you to campaign workers, has become an important stop for Democrats seeking the nomination — offering the opportunity to woo voters, particularly those in the African American community.
While he could be a kingmaker in the state, Clyburn says he isn’t likely to endorse a candidate ahead of the primary, telling NBC News, “It would be a bit selfish for me to go out and please my political inclinations and threaten the foundation on which we are trying to build a new, vibrant South Carolina Democratic Party.”
Rep. Clyburn said he hopes candidates present specifics on how they intend to make the “greatnesses of our society accessible and affordable.”
“That's where we’re coming up short,” he said. “Why don't we connect with these people? … You can’t just can’t say, ‘I'm for you, but I can't come and hang out with you, I can’t come and be a part of the dreams and aspirations that you adhere to.’ That’s a big mistake we make.”
In addition to the fish fry, many of the candidates will also make appearances at the state party’s Blue Palmetto dinner, the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention and a Planned Parenthood Action Fund forum.
Some contenders — including Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.— have also scheduled meet and greets and other weekend events in the state.