South Carolina, which will host the fourth nominating contest next year, will be the first state where a significant proportion of the Democratic electorate – about 60 percent – is black.
In a crowded Democratic field, the candidates are aiming for strong performances to show their messages resonate with black voters in the state and in nominating contests across the U.S. South.
They also want to generate enthusiasm for their candidacies in the November general election against President Donald Trump, the presumed Republican nominee. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Trump in 2016 was in part attributed to a decline in black voter turnout for the first time in 20 years.
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke and U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren will be in attendance on Saturday.
The Black Economic Alliance was launched last year ahead of the 2018 midterm congressional elections, when it endorsed 26 candidates in House of Representatives, Senate and gubernatorial races. The group has pivoted to policy development, said founding director Akunna Cook.
“This forum is a part of that. We want to make sure that the top-tier presidential candidates are focused on the kitchen table issues that are top-of-mind for black voters,” such as racial disparities in wealth, employment rates and home ownership, Cook told Reuters.
South Carolina’s primary election is in late February, following the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
More than 20 candidates are set to appear next weekend at a fish fry hosted by South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, the first “cattle call” that will brings the bulk of the Democratic field to the state.
Cook said the alliance decided to host its forum early in order to help set the agenda.
“Black voters are really hungry for candidates who will put forward concrete plans for these issues,” Cook said. “We wanted to make sure we were able to help mold and shape the conversation.”
Reporting by Amanda Becker; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall