Democratic candidates pitch South Carolina voters at fish fry

Interviews with candidates, state party officials and more at Rep. Jim Clyburn’s fish fry

“World Famous Fish Fry” fast facts:

  • After a week where numerous candidates exchanged barbs, the candidates kept it civil and friendly, and avoided attacks on each other. At the end of the event, they joined together on the stage alongside Jim Clyburn.
  • Joe Biden gave what Clyburn called “the shortest speech” he had ever given. Biden’s big theme was party unity, arguing that the most important thing was electing a Democrat in 2020.
  • Several candidates referenced last year’s Emanuel AME shooting, in which a white supremacist killed nine black worshipers at a Charleston church on June 17th, 2015.
  • While some candidates concentrated on biography, others — including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — leaned heavily on their policy proposals.
  • If there was any doubt that Jim Clyburn is a major power broker in the Democratic Party, it evaporated in the South Carolina heat Friday night. Nearly the entire Democratic presidential field turned out to speak to praise Clyburn in Clyburn t-shirts in front of a giant sign with one word on it: “Clyburn.”

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn hosted his annual “Fish Fry” event Friday night in Columbia, and just about all the Democrats running for president made their pitch to voters in a critical early primary state. Their speeches are being limited to roughly 90 seconds, giving the famed event a lightning-round quality.

Joe Biden urged that “whomever the Democratic nominee is, we have to stay together and elect a [Democratic] president of the United States.”All the candidates had less than two minutes to pitch themselves. After Biden wrapped up, Clyburn joked “that’s the shortest speech Joe Biden ever made.”

South Carolina hosts the first primary in the South on Feb. 29, 2020. It’s considered a key state for candidates, where black voters make up 61% of the electorate. If a candidate does well in South Carolina, it could be seen as an indicator for his or her support among black voters across the country.

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Most of the candidates plan to stick around Saturday, when the South Carolina Democratic Party will be holding its annual convention and elect its officers.

In post-game interview, Ryan takes aim at China

Tim Ryan discusses plan to “out compete” China

Tim Ryan spoke with CBSN after the fish fry, discussing his plan to “out compete” China by investing in clean energy.

Climate change, Ryan said, “needs to be expressed to the majority of Americans who are struggling as opportunity,” meaning that workers who have lost their manufacturing jobs could go into production of solar panels and wind turbines.

The Ohio congressman said his plan would have American workers “out compete” and “out build” their Chinese counterparts.

Ryan said that he agreed with President Trump’s decision to take on China, but thought that tariffs alone were not the solution.

“A tariff is a tactical move that’s supposed to be part of a larger strategy,” Ryan said.

Candidates wrap up event with group photo

All 21 candidates present at the fish fry wrapped up the event with a group photo onstage alongside Clyburn.

The 21 Democratic presidential candidates, along with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, take the stage during his “World Famous Fish Fry” in Columbia on June 21, 2019. RANDALL HILL / REUTERS

Harris invokes South Carolina church shooting

Kamala Harris began her speech by invoking the mass shooting by a white supremacist that killed nine worshipers at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston four years ago this week.

Harris paid homage to the past heroes of civil rights. She said she was standing on their shoulders as a candidate, with a vision for the future that includes healthcare for all, higher pay for teachers, and “reasonable” gun control laws.

“This is a fight not only to honor the history and heroes,” said Harris, “it’s a fight for our future.”

— Stephanie Ramirez

Warren touts “big ideas”

In her pitch, Elizabeth Warren touted her campaign’s “big ideas” for “big structural change.” She ran through some of her most well-known policies such as a wealth tax, which she says would pay for universal childcare, as well as tuition-free college.

In the biggest applause line of her speech, Warren discussed her plan to give $15 billion to the country’s historically black colleges and universities.

“We need to have courage in this country,” Warren said. “2020: We can dream big, fight hard and win.”

Presidential Candidates Attend Annual Jim Clyburn Fish Fry In South Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the fish fry on June 21, 2019. Getty

Andrew Yang emphasizes his universal basic income proposal

Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who has a fierce base unofficially known as the “Yang Gang,” took the opportunity to introduce his proposal for universal basic income, where each citizen would receive $1000 per month.

Yang said that most voters knew this about him: “There’s an Asian man running for president who wants to give everyone $1000 month. All of those things are dead true, South Carolina.”

Calling President Trump’s solutions to increasing automation of manufacturing jobs “garbage and nonsense,” Yang repeated his usual catchphrase to close his speech.

“The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math,” Yang said.

Tim Ryan discusses hot yoga and campaigning

“I think we are doing some hot yoga here tonight!” Tim Ryan told the crowd after Clyburn said the Ohio congressman was a fan of hot yoga.

Ryan’s main message to the crowd was “the middle class has been getting screwed for the past 40 years” with production jobs disappearing across the country. By focusing on workers like these, Ryan argued the “center of gravity” of the Democratic Party will move “back to the middle of the country and in the South.”

— Bo Erickson

Michael Bennet says Trump doesn’t love America

Michael Bennet, one of the lesser-known candidates in the race, spent most of his speech attacking President Trump.

“In my view, we have a president who doesn’t care about America. He doesn’t love anybody but himself,” the Colorado senator said, to laughs from the audience.

Presidential Candidates Attend Annual Jim Clyburn Fish Fry In South Carolina Sen. Michael Bennet speaks at the event on June 21, 2019. Getty

Bernie Sanders focuses on policy

In one of the longer speeches of the evening — over three minutes long — Bernie Sanders highlighted his signature campaign promises, including Medicare for All and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“We’re going to bring our people together around an agenda that works for all of us, not just the 1%,” Sanders said. He also talked about reducing student debt and making public colleges tuition-free.

He ended his speech by telling the audience that “we are the 99%,” and that the 99% has far more power than the 1%. Notably, Sanders was the only candidate so far to not wear a Clyburn campaign t-shirt.

Castro discusses police brutality

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro invoked the 2015 shooting at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine congregants were killed. Castro noted the shooter, who was white, was apprehended by police “without incident.”

“What about Eric Gardner? And what about Stephon Clark?” Castro questioned as he continued to list other black Americans shot by police. “We’re going to be fearless to make sure this country works for everyone,” he added.

— Bo Erickson

Biden makes uncharacteristically short speech

“The shortest speech Joe Biden ever made,” is what host Jim Clyburn called Biden’s less-than-one minute address to Fish Fry attendees tonight.

Biden said over the years of campaigning in South Carolina, and attending this gathering, it “seems like I have lived in South Carolina.” The former vice president also reminisced about missing long-time South Carolina Sen. Fritz Hollings.

— Bo Erickson

Booker emphasizes party unity, cracks “dad joke”

In his brief speech, Cory Booker emphasized the importance of unity in the Democratic Party — even if he is not the Democratic nominee.

“This election is not about one person and one office, it’s about who we are as a nation and who we must be to each other,” Booker said. “We all must make sure that we may be in the midst of a primary but when the primary is over we become a united force.”

Booker, who has widely proclaimed his love for “dad jokes,” ended his brief speech with a corny fish fry-themed quip.

“Let’s not flounder, let’s get out there and kick some bass,” he said.

Warren says she’s not here to attack Democrats

Elizabeth Warren arrived at the fish fry saying she was excited to eat some fish and drink some beer.

“I hope there’s beer,” she told reporters. “Michelob Ultra.”

She was greeted by supporters who were chanting “L-I-Z, she has a plan for me!” When asked whether Joe Biden should apologize for his comments earlier this week about his past relationships with segregationist lawmakers, Warren said she was not attending the event to criticize her fellow Democrats.

She also said that the new sexual assault allegations against President Trump do not surprise her.

— Eleanor Watson

Delaney says he won’t offer “impossible promises”

Rep. John Delaney discusses his 2020 candidacy ahead of World Famous Fish Fry

John Delaney defended his moderate policy proposals in an interview with Elaine Quijano and Major Garrett, saying that unlike some of the other candidates in the race, he would not offer “impossible promises.”

Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland who announced his campaign in 2017, said that he believed there are two categories of candidates in the race: “people who are promising things that don’t make sense or are never going to happen,” and candidates who would put forth “real solutions.”

Criticizing candidates like Bernie Sanders, Delaney said that he believed running on a socialist platform against President Trump is “risky.”

South Carolina voters say they want to see candidates in their community

CBS News pollster Anthony Salvanto and Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright spoke to South Carolina Democratic voters about what they want to see from the presidential candidates flocking to their state.

“You need to be there,” said one voter, about how candidates can appeal to local voters.

Harris responds to criticism from Clyburn

Kamala Harris responded to criticism from Jim Clyburn that she had not done enough to lay out her policy proposals for South Carolina voters, encouraging him to come to her events.

According to recent CBS News polling, Harris and Cory Booker both lag well behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in South Carolina. In an interview with NBC News this week, Clyburn said he was surprised that Harris and Booker, who are both black, hadn’t caught on in the state.

Clyburn, widely seen as the most influential Democrat in South Carolina, said there’s “been a little bit of amazement to me as well, because I thought for sure that there would be much more of a surge and I can’t quite figure that out yet.” He added that Harris hasn’t “spelled out the policy stuff with her vision.”

In response, Harris told reporters Friday: “I would like him to come to some of my events so he can hear them.”

“I’m very proud of our policies and I’m told that we actually have among probably the top two or top three of all the candidates, the most policies that we rolled out in pretty significant details,” Harris said.

State Rep. JA Moore, who has endorsed Harris, told CBSN that he believes enthusiasm will grow for Harris as she continues to visit the state.

“As we get to know her, I guarantee those numbers will come up,” Moore said about her poll numbers.

Candidates react to rising tensions with Iran

Democratic presidential candidates are urging caution when it comes to Iran, after Iran shot down a U.S. drone in what the U.S. says is international airspace. Late Thursday night, the president ordered a strike on Iran, but backed off, he said, after learning the likely human toll.

Candidates are hoping President Trump, who campaigned on getting the U.S. out of wars in the Middle East, will turn to diplomacy rather than aggressive military action. Mr. Trump said the strike he was “cocked and loaded” for — which he said could have killed 150 people — was not “proportional” to the drone strike carried out by Iran.

Read more about presidential candidates’ reactions to escalating tensions with Iran here.

Moulton explains how he would respond to Iran drone attack

Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, said he would respond to Iran shooting down an American drone with a “targeted, clear response,” and that President Trump’s decision to call off a retaliatory strike on Iran showed that the president “has no strategy.”

Moulton, who served in the military in Afghanistan, said that he would do a targeted cyberattack in Iran in retaliation.

Moulton also pointed out the importance of addressing foreign policy in a presidential platform.

“It’s not just enough to criticize Trump, we have to show how we will lead,” Moulton said. “He’s weak as a commander in chief. I don’t know why I’m the only candidate in the race who’s taking him on as commander in chief.”

Marcia Fudge: There is “sensitivity” about race in 2020 primaries

Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, weighed in on Joe Biden’s comments this week touting his relationships with segregationists while he was in the Senate.

“I don’t know that he should apologize,” Fudge, who is black, told CBS News’ Major Garrett. However, she noted that “when you decide to be on the biggest stage in the world, you have to be very, very careful” when making comments about race.

“There’s a sensitivity that is important, especially for people of color, because we have always been the most loyal base of this party,” Fudge said.

Fudge believes that Biden will directly or indirectly address the comments he made earlier this week during his speech at the fish fry, particularly since the majority of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina is black.

Fudge said that she wasn’t endorsing Biden, although she said that she “liked” him and had known him a long time.

“I’ve not decided to endorse anyone yet. It’s coming soon,” she teased.

Gillibrand pushes back against criticism over abortion comments

In an interview with CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe Friday afternoon, Kirsten Gillibrand pushed back against criticism that she had equated anti-abortion activism to racism in an interview with the Des Moines Register earlier in June.

In the interview with the Register, Gillibrand compared nominating anti-abortion rights judges to nominating judges with racist beliefs. Gillibrand has previously said that she would only nominate judges who support abortion rights to the federal bench.

“Imagine saying that it’s okay to appoint a judge who’s racist, or anti-Semitic, or homophobic,” she continued. “Asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America … I don’t think those are political issues anymore.”

“All these efforts by President Trump and other ultra-radical, conservative judges and justices to impose their faith on Americans is contrary to our Constitution,” Gillibrand told the Register.

O’Keefe questioned Gillibrand about these comments, asking for clarification.

“What I was saying is, as president of the United States, I would only appoint judges or justices that see Roe v. Wade — that it’s been precedent, law of the land for over 40 years,” Gillibrand said, adding that to “take away” a woman’s right to an abortion “undermines our civil rights and our human rights. And I don’t think there’s a place in our party for candidates that don’t understand that these are basic human rights.”

She also said that people in the Democratic Party with anti-abortion rights beliefs should not run for president.

“I don’t think as a Democrat they should, because they’re literally saying, ‘Women of America don’t deserve human rights. Women of America don’t have the agency to make the most important decision of their lives,'” Gillibrand said.

Where’s Mayor Pete?

Buttigieg says “U.S. does not have a foreign policy” under Trump

One of the major candidates is missing tonight — Pete Buttigieg. His absence is no slight to Jim Clyburn. It’s an attempt to avoid bad optics.

Buttigieg is back in South Bend, where he is mayor, handling the aftermath of a police officer’s shooting of a black resident, which has sparked protests in the African-American community in South Bend.

Clyburn told CBSN’s Elaine Quijano in an interview before the event that Buttigieg had personally contacted him to explain why he had to miss the fish fry. Clyburn said he understood.”I know a little about that, where we’ve had police shootings…I know what he’s going through and I wish him well,” said Clyburn.

Major Garrett said that even though Buttigieg’s absence is driven by the shooting, his absence in South Carolina has been noticed and “is now a topic of conversation.”

— Emily Tillett

Jim Clyburn: 2020 Dems need to make case for “accessible and affordable” policies

Rep. Jim Clyburn: 2020 Democrats must make case for “accessible and affordable” policies

As 21 presidential candidates descend on Rep. Clyburn’s fish fry (which he thinks may set an attendence record), the South Carolina kingmaker says that the contenders need to focus on accessibility and affordability in their policy proposals.

“I’ve been saying ,what we’re trying to do is try to pick a presidential candidate who can make the greatness of this country accessible and affordable for all of its citizens. Whatever they talk about I’d hope they’d get out of the clouds and get down to where people are,” Clyburn told CBSN’s Elaine Quijano.

“If you’re gonna talk about health care, answer the question, ‘How will I make it accessible — how will I make it affordable?” he explained. He advised candidates to be as explicit as possible about their plans for Americans and South Carolina voters when they make their pitches this weekend.

— Emily Tillett

Who’s coming to the fish fry?

Some 3,000 people are expected to show up, with Clyburn and Rep. Joe Cunningham kicking off the fish fry with speeches. Candidates are expected to give the crowd shorter versions of their stump speeches.

Here is the list of candidates attending the fish fry:

  • Sen. Michael Bennet
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Sen. Cory Booker
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
  • Rep. John Delaney
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messem
  • Rep. Seth Moulton
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  • Rep. Tim Ryan
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • Marianne Williamson
  • Andrew Yang

What’s the proper way to eat fish at the fish fry?

Food often presents a campaign trail hazard for presidential candidates. Ask John Kerry, who infamously ordered Swiss cheese with his cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Or Mitt Romney, who misspoke about his “cheesy grits” in Mississippi. In the last election, John Kasich found himself pilloried for eating his pizza with a knife and fork.

The fish fry features fish dredged in cornmeal, flour and spices and then cooked in vats of hot oil and served on a slice of white bread with hot sauce.

Clyburn may not be endorsing anyone, but he’s at least helping candidates avoid fish fry food flubs. He tweeted instructions and a short video of former President Obama eating at the fish fry when he was a candidate.

“How to properly eat fish at a fish fry: Step 1: Get your fish, Step 2: Wrap fish in white bread, Step 3: Apply hot sauce, Step 4: Enjoy,” Clyburn wrote.

Organizers ordered 4,400 pounds of fish and 6,400 slices of bread to feed the masses.

Clyburn, who is the most powerful African American in the House, holds the position of a political kingmaker in the state. His fish fry, which he has hosted for nearly 30 years, has become a key campaign stop for presidential candidates, especially after South Carolina officially became an early primary state in 2008. Although he declined to make an endorsement in the 2008 Democratic primaries, Clyburn endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Biden stirs controversy with comments about segregationists

Days before the fish fry, Joe Biden attracted controversy when he talked about his relationship with James Eastland, a Mississippi senator and noted segregationist, at a fundraiser in New York City Tuesday. Biden referenced Eastland while arguing for more civility in Washington.

“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden told the crowd. “He never called me ‘Boy.’ He always called me ‘Son.'”

Eastland, the longtime chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ardently opposed the civil rights movement and was an avowed white supremacist.

“At least there was some civility,” Biden said in his remarks Tuesday. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done.” Today, he said, “You look at the other side and you’re the enemy.”

On Wednesday, some of his Democratic opponents criticized him for the remarks and a couple even called on him to apologize. Biden said Wednesday, “The point I’m making is you don’t have to agree. You don’t have to like the people in terms of their views but you just simply make the case and you beat them.” He did not apologize, declaring instead, “There’s not a racist bone in my body.”

— Bo Erickson, Zachary Hudak and Alan He

Who do South Carolina Democrats like so far?

A CBS News Battleground Tracker poll published Thursday found that Biden is the top choice among South Carolina Democrats, garnering 45% support from party voters.


Most African-Americans are considering Biden and half are considering Bernie Sanders. A third of black voters are considering supporting Kamala Harris. However, the poll was conducted before Biden made his remarks about working with segregationist senators in the past.


Biden’s ties to President Barack Obama are helping boost him to the front of the pack in South Carolina and across early voting states. More than eight in 10 (including most whites and blacks) say his history as President Obama’s vice president is a reason they are considering backing him, outranking things like his policy stances and his time in the Senate.


— Jennifer De Pinto

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