/Bernie Sanders South Carolina crowd size one-third of Elizabeth Warrens

Bernie Sanders South Carolina crowd size one-third of Elizabeth Warrens

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Campaign events by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, competing for voters on the Left flank of the 2020 Democratic primary field, proved a study in contrasts this weekend as far as crowd sizes are concerned.

Nearly 300 people attended a Sanders town hall in Columbia on Saturday, while over 900 showed up to see Warren in Aiken the day before.

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Line to see Warren in Aiken, Aug. 17, 2019.

(Emily Larsen/WEX)

Sanders, a Vermont senator, arrived about an hour late to his town hall event in the Greenview Park Gym, running behind schedule after speaking at a Baptist church lunch and taking a walking tour of the Booker Washington Heights neighborhood. Attendees sat in folding chairs and on the gym bleachers. The scoreboard time at the gym was set to “20:20” with the home score “2” and visitor score “29,” a reference to the date of South Carolina’s Feb. 29 primary, the fourth statewide nominating contest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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(Emily Larsen/WEX)

On Saturday evening, Warren drew so many people that they could campaign stop in Aiken, about an hour away from Columbia. Warren briefly addressed an overflow crowd of about 325 outside the venue before speaking to about 600 people in the University of South Carolina Aiken Business and Education Building gymnasium.

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(Emily Larsen/WEX)

Crowd sizes are an imperfect measure of candidates’ popularity, with alternative events taking place at the same time, weather, and other factors a consideration. But approaching six months out from the South Carolina primary, it’s an indication that Warren’s populist-left message may be resonating more than Sanders’ socialist critique of the American political system.

Polling for the last several months appeared to show that Warren converted many former Sanders supporters to back her instead. The latest South Carolina Post and Courier / Change Research poll shows Sanders and Warren neck-and-neck for second and third place among likely Democratic voters in the state, with Warren at 17% support and Sanders at 16% support. Both trail former Vice President Joe Biden, a well-known political quantity in South Carolina dating back to his first of three presidential runs, in 1987.

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(Emily Larsen/WEX)

Warren event attendees include residents from the neighboring Augusta, Georgia, area. Armed private security, heavier than normal for presidential campaign stop events at this point in the cycle, screened attendees before they entered the building at Warren’s event.

Sanders on Sunday rolled out a criminal justice reform plan on that aims to end “profiteering in our criminal justice system,” mass incarceration, and excessive sentencing. The bulk of the town hall program revolved around panelists discussing their experiences with and insights about the criminal justice reform system.

Panelist Donald Gillard, deputy South Carolina director for the Sanders campaign, said he was once sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug crime.

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(Emily Larsen/WEX)

The format, a change from usual Sanders campaign events, was not a hit with some attendees.

“It’s good he hit on that, but he should hit on some other topics besides that,” said retired Columbia resident Frank Wilson. He mentioned that he was hoping to hear Sanders talk about job losses due to trade.

Both Sanders and Warren spoke at a Black Leadership PAC presidential candidates forum during the Youth Leadership Conference in Atlanta on Saturday.

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