Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips entered Joe Biden’s territory when he arrived at the American Theater on Charleston’s historic King Street. Phillips was met with a lukewarm reception, but he managed to engage the audience with a few jokes. This visit to South Carolina marked Phillips’ first trip to the state since launching his presidential campaign. It also highlighted the uphill battle he faces, particularly in Biden’s stronghold.
Phillips chose the Blue Jamboree, an event that showcases national and local Democrats, as the platform for his first pitch to key voters in this early primary state. While acknowledging that this campaign is a longshot, Phillips and his team understand the democratic process and believe in their right to make their case.
During his speech, Phillips made some tense remarks, drawing strong opposition from a Biden volunteer. However, by the end of his remarks, there was a subtle shift in the audience’s response. Though not as boisterously cheered as Biden’s representatives, Phillips managed to engage the crowd by discussing the common goal of defeating Trump.
Phillips acknowledged the difficulty of introducing himself as a political outsider in a state like South Carolina, particularly when faced with the influence of figures like Jim Clyburn. Yet, he expressed satisfaction with the overall reception, measuring his success by the number of people who engage with him after his speeches.
After coming off the stage, Phillips received support from both his own supporters and even some wary Biden voters. One voter named Karen Hutchinson, who had never heard of Phillips before, expressed interest in voting for him due to his focus on financial concerns and the needs of the next generation.
Throughout his Saturday, Phillips spoke with small-dollar donors and local officials while planning to expand his campaign staff in South Carolina. Reflecting on Biden’s support, Phillips believed that while it appears substantial, it lacks depth and true commitment.
Concerning Biden, there is a sense among South Carolina Democratic leaders that his campaign is hesitant to invest fully in the state, likely to avoid giving too much credibility to Phillips’ campaign. Clyburn’s presence in support of Biden was a safe choice, representing the campaign’s interests without seeming reactionary. Adding Benjamin to the schedule at the last minute was seen as a compromise.
There has been frustration among Democratic Party leaders that Biden’s campaign has not shown more engagement in South Carolina, especially considering its significance as an early primary state. Party leaders also want to challenge the Republican stronghold in local and state offices.
While Phillips may see an opportunity to gain ground, it was not immediately evident in the room. Clyburn received enthusiastic applause when he spoke on behalf of Biden, emphasizing his confidence in the president’s successes and dismissing the doubters.
Following the event, Phillips posted a picture of himself embracing Clyburn, expressing gratitude for the night and highlighting the warm send-off he received.