CHARLESTON, S.C. — U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, interrupted an interview with a reporter here Saturday to speak with two elementary-school age children that she quickly labeled “little Democrats.”
“We are leaving no stone unturned,” she said once she returned to the interview.
Wasserman Schultz and the rest of the Democratic Party will have to turn over quite a few stones to make headway in South Carolina, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976 — 35 years ago.
Things are not any better at the state level. Last year, Democrats lost their only statewide office, superintendent of education, and one of their two congressional seats, when 28-year incumbent John Spratt lost to Republican state representative Mick Mulvaney in his first run for federal office.
“I know it’s been an uphill battle,” Wasserman Schultz said, “but the longest distance starts with the first step.”
Wasserman Schultz was in Charleston Saturday night hoping to help state Democrats take that first step, speaking to a gathering of several hundred party supporters at the second annual Blue Jamboree at the Charleston Maritime Center.
State Democrats are trying to rebrand themselves under the leadership of their fiery new chairman, Dick Harpootlian. That sentiment was clear when you first entered the Blue Jamboree as volunteers handed out bumper stickers depicting a donkey kicking an elephant above the slogan “Ass Kicking!!!
Harpootlian has spent the first five months of his chairmanship trying to fire up the state’s Democratic base, taking frequent shots at Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and, increasingly, Lt. Gov. Ken Ard because of the State Grand Jury investigation into his campaign spending.
Part of that strategy includes bringing national party figures to South Carolina, a tall task given the state’s relative unimportance in national elections and the fact that S.C. is not holding a Democratic presidential primary this year.
But Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, headlined a fundraiser in Columbia earlier this year. And last month, Vice President Joe Biden flew to Charleston for a private dinner, where 10 people paid $35,800-a-person to meet with him.
Wasserman Schultz, who Obama personally selected to lead the Democratic National Committee, fits that bill.
Still, Obama’s South Carolina campaign operatives know what they are up against.
“It’s not going to be as fun as it was in 2008,” Lee Goodall, director of Organizing for America South Carolina, told a group of college students and prospective volunteers Saturday.
Hunter Adams, a 19-year-old sophomore at the College of Charleston, who was one of the students listening to Goodall, acknowledged it will be more difficult to get people, especially folks in South Carolina, excited for this election.
“I think just with the economy staying stagnant, and with jobs, particularly unemployment still being high, people are starting to get worried and angry with the status quo,” he said. “And so I think Democrats need to keep strong with the president and the Democrat Party’s agenda.”
But U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn did not have any trouble firing up the crowd Saturday. Speaking to several hundred people, with Charleston harbor and the Ravenel Bridge in the background, Clyburn told them “get ready for the inauguration” of Obama’s second term.
But perhaps his loudest ovation came when Clyburn declared that he supports the Occupy Wall Street movement “with every ounce” of himself because they are “challenging things that need to be changed.”
“I too believe that the day is dawning for this party to once again assume its rightful role as the dominant party in South Carolina politics,” he said.
In her speech, Wasserman Schultz said the South Carolina Democratic Party “is one of the most well organized and highly motivated parties I have seen in this entire country.”
She promoted Obama’s recently announced jobs plan, and heralded his plan to pull out all U.S. troops from Iraq while touting his success in taking out Osama bin Laden. And she threw in a few shots at South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Haley, including criticizing her for not going after some federal education money.
But she ended her speech by returning to 2008, a time when South Carolina Democrats were “Fired up! Ready to go!” on their way to giving Obama a landslide victory in the South Carolina primary.
Wasserman Schultz credited South Carolina with that famous chant, started by Greenwood City Councilwoman Edith Childs, or “a lady from Greenwood with a church hat,” as she described her.
“Over the next 13 months, there will be ups, and there will be downs,” she said. “But no one is going to outwork us. No one.
“That’s a promise I can’t keep by myself. I need you to help me keep it.”
To read more, visit www.thestate.com.