NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina – Less than 100 days out from South Caroline’s first-in-the-South Democratic primary, all three of the party’s presidential candidates gathered here Saturday to make their pitch to hundreds of activists at the state’s annual Blue Jamboree on the banks of the Ashley River. And each candidate officially signed paperwork that will put their name on the state’s ballot.
Hillary Clinton defended her Wall Street reform plan while Martin O’Malley sharpened his attacks on the front-runner and rival Bernie Sanders, who made a case for why he’s the most outspoken candidate on criminal justice reform.
Clinton, who has a strong lead in the state but has been criticized by her fellow Democrats for being too cozy with Wall Street, called her financial reform plan the “toughest” and most “comprehensive.”
After her speech, Clinton, like the other two candidates, sat down to sign paperwork that will put her name on the state’s February 27 ballot. “Well, it’s official,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sanders, who has struggled to make inroads with the African-American community in this heavily black state, highlighted his criminal justice reform plan. “The Black Lives Matter movement,” he said, “has done a needed and commendable job in raising public awareness of this issue.”
He went on to name people of color killed by police, saying, “the killings of African-Americans has got to stop.”
Polls shows Sanders trailing far behind Clinton in South Carolina, but he said he is making progress. “I will not deny that if the election were held today, we would lose,” he told reporters after his speech. “Fortunately for us, the election is not being held today … I think you’re going to see us picking up a lot of steam here in South Carolina.”
And finally, O’Malley sharped his attacks on Clinton and Sanders as he languishes in the polls and faces a major financial crunch.
“For a long time watching the national news, I am sure you thought you only had two choices. Well guess what, you’ve got three,” he told the crowd. At least one woman was convinced, stenciling O’Malley’s name in lipstick on a sign after discarding her Clinton placard.
Casting off his initial reluctance to become known as the candidate who attacks his opponents, O’Malley did not hesitate Saturday. Sanders believes in “socialism,” O’Malley said, adding it was “a failed ideology from our past.”
“I also don’t subscribe to Secretary Clinton’s economic theory, which is to take orders from the big banks of Wall Street to create an economy that is of the few and by the few and for the few. That’s called crony capitalism,” he added.
On foreign policy, O’Malley suggested that Clinton still has “one foot trapped in the Cold War.” (Asked later about that jab, Clinton told reporters, “I’m not going to respond to him.” She added that “he can go read my speech.”)
O’Malley’s campaign is in the process of dramatically reducing its headquarters staff and forced to accept public financing, which comes with severe limits. But O’Malley told reporters the financial picture had improved in recent weeks, saying his campaign has not taken on debt and he had the best fundraising week of his campaign this week. He also said he will continue to have headquarters office space in Baltimore, even as his campaign shifts staff and resources to Iowa and the other early primary and caucus states.