GREENVILLE, S.C. – With less than a week remaining until the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary, the field of candidates on the ballot has narrowed down to seven.
But for some voters, a less-crowded slate hasn’t made the decision process that much easier.
Jil Littlejohn said it’s possible that she doesn’t make a final decision until she’s in the voting booth on Saturday.
“It’s really difficult this year,” Littlejohn said.
A Winthrop University poll conducted last week found that 18% of South Carolina Democratic Primary voters were still undecided, but former Vice President Joe Biden was in the lead with 24%, compared to 19% for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
No perfect fit
Littlejohn, the former Greenville City Council mayor pro tem, has struggled to choose the candidate who best represents her political views and who she believes has the best chance of defeating President Donald Trump in November.
“When you start off in the initial phase with 25, 26-plus candidates running for president, it’s hard to decipher between each of the candidates. And as time has dwindled down, of course, many have dropped off. But there’s not one candidate that I feel like speaks to my personal and economic interests holistically. Each candidate has some of the things that I like, but no one has it all,” Littlejohn said.
For John Love of Greenville, the biggest issue is electability. Love is a fan of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, but he’s a little concerned about “wasting” his vote on a candidate who won’t become the eventual Democratic nominee.
“This is hard because there are all kinds of electability issues,” said Love, an educator with Greenville County Schools. “Everybody seems to have some baggage. The one that has the least baggage in all that group, I think, is probably Amy Klobuchar. … I could live with her (but) I’m not sure she’s a strong enough candidate. You’re not sure if you’re wasting your vote with somebody.”
Cassandra Nelson is a 49-year-old small-business owner, and for a long time, she just assumed she would vote for Biden.
The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, is important for Nelson, who suffers from asthma and worries that changes to the health insurance system would reinstate the provision against covering pre-existing conditions.
“Before Obamacare – and I still call it that — I had to really fight for my insurance, and because I’m a woman who has lifelong asthma, the Affordable Care Act saved my life in so many ways,” Nelson said. “Not literally, of course, but really made a huge impact on my life and my ability to have a business and take care of myself.”
Biden ‘not hitting his message points’
But as Biden’s campaign progressed in recent months, Nelson said she has been less impressed with the candidate.
“I went to his town hall in Spartanburg, and he wasn’t exactly what I remembered,” Nelson said. “And that made me a little bit nervous, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not sure he’s going to be able to beat Trump.’ ”
Biden’s language and manner of speaking gave Nelson pause.
“He seems like he’d be great at a cocktail party,” she said with a laugh. “He’s not hitting his message points. He would start a story and then interrupt it with a tangent from something in the ’60s, and then that story went on for a long time, and I’m like, ‘What is he trying to say?’ ”
Littlejohn has met with representatives from several of the campaigns, and she’s narrowed the field of eight (Mike Bloomberg is running but won’t be on the ballot in South Carolina) down to her top five candidates. But her 2016 pick, Sanders, is not on her shortlist because she feels that as a senator he hasn’t acted on the proposals he made four years ago as a presidential candidate.
Buttigieg ‘not ready’
Littlejohn’s major concerns relate to economic inequality, race, and criminal justice reform.
“A plus for a candidate is a candidate who specifically calls out what their agenda is for black America,” she said. “Being an African American female, I think it’s important that there is a clear plan to attack or to address systematic racism that definitely exists. So any candidate that has that in their plan, is definitely one who is higher on my ranking. Also looking at affordable housing and what that looks like in terms of providing opportunities and access to states and municipalities to provide public-private partnerships to increase affordable housing.”
Like Love, Nelson is concerned about electability. She has been impressed by Klobuchar, “but I’m not sure she’s getting her message across.”
As for Buttigieg, Nelson said she thinks the 38-year-old is appealing, but a little too young to win the election. “He’ll be a great president in eight years, I think, but I think he’s not ready.”
Sanders’ age, health a factor
On the other end of the spectrum, Sanders’ age and health issues have ruled him out for Nelson, although four years ago, she liked Sanders “in an idealistic way.”
But Nelson also thinks Sanders’ positions have become more extreme than they were four years ago, and that’s another factor weighing about him.
“I feel like Bernie is the extreme version of the liberal party, and Trump is the extreme version of the Republican party, and we’re yo-yo-ing back and forth,” Nelson said. “And I don’t think that’s what we need right now.”
For Nelson, the best choice for 2020 is a moderate candidate, “someone who’s going to calm us down … and say, ‘Hey, remember we have more in common than we don’t.’ And I thought that was going to be Biden, and I still hope that it is.”
Nelson’s top issue is health care and being able to keep the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, rather than creating a new system such as Medicare for All.
Wanted: One who can unify
But second on her list of concerns is choosing someone who can be a unifier.
Littlejohn also would like to see a candidate who can bring people together.
“I feel like there’s a lot of unnecessary name-calling and going back and forth, and we could get that with the current president,” Littlejohn said. “So it’s really made it more difficult to narrow down my choices.”
Love, who describes his political stance as “more middle of the road,” said he doesn’t mind Sanders’ left-leaning policies, but he doesn’t think the Vermont senator would win in the general election, adding that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s policies are too similar to Sanders’ to give her a shot at becoming the nominee.
But although he’s undecided for the primary, Love has already made up his mind for the general election in November.
“Whoever the Democrats come up with, I’ll support wholeheartedly because I really would like to see a change in November,” he said.
Other Democratic voters share that sentiment.
When Nelson did her taxes recently, she got a nice surprise: A $3,000 tax credit as a result of Trump’s tax reform.
“It was helpful, but I would rather pay the full amount of taxes and live in an America where we are kind to each other, like a beacon on a hill and a true leader. I would rather pay for myself, pay all my taxes, and be in a country where we take care of each other, than get a discount on taxes and attack each other.”