The first Democratic presidential debates of the 2020 campaign begin on Wednesday. In south Florida, 20 candidates will pack the stage across two nights. Last week, South Carolina played host to all of those candidates. The early primary state is heavily Republican — but Democrats do have a voice in the primary. In a “CBS This Morning” original series, “Three Meals,” CBS News contributor Steve Inskeep visited three South Carolina cities to talk with voters over breakfast, lunch and dinner about what issues are most important in their lives.
Breakfast: Charleston, South Carolina
The trip kicked off in Charleston, one of the state’s largest and wealthiest areas. At the Marina Variety Store restaurant, Inskeep met Doug Warner, a veteran whose job is now to promote the growing city. Warner wants better roads and schools to serve big new employers like Boeing — but he’s also concerned about climate change and what will happen when sea levels start to rise.
“We’re not below sea level like New Orleans, but we’re low,” he said. “That’s why they call it the Low Country.”
Although South Carolina is conservative, he added, Charleston is “pretty progressive.” Warner wants a progressive leader, but he said it’s more important to choose someone who “can win against Donald Trump.” He likes Joe Biden, who vacations near the city.
Residents of South Carolina live surrounded by the past. Notable landmarks include Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started in 1861. A bit inland, there’s a former slave mart that’s now a museum. And there’s also the Emanuel AME Church, the black church where a white gunman opened fire in 2015 and killed nine people.
Today, South Carolina’s substantial black population is a significant part of the Democratic Party vote. At Hannibal’s Kitchen, Tamara and Calvin Baxter say they love the historic district.
“When I’m down there, I feel inspired,” Calvin said, adding “this is my people. And we built a lot of things around here.”
But the Baxters sense a city and nation divided. Tamara cited “the racial divide” and the “economic divide” and said that “No one is really tryin’ to come together to make the country one.”
Lunch: Orangeburg, South Carolina
Orangeburg is part of the historic cotton-growing portion of the state — and is one of the poorest counties in South Carolina. At Antley’s Barbecue, Inskeep met a family who’d just come from a funeral.
That family included Shirley B. Caldwell, who grew up nearby picking cotton. “That was our way of makin’ a nickel,” she said.
Her son, Todd, works for a bank, and said the economy in the area is “not the richest.”
For that reason, Jacquetta Chatman is interested in Democrat Elizabeth Warren, whom she describes as an “advocate for “eliminatin’ student loans.” Chatman is a teacher who’s still paying her own student loans while supporting her son through college.
“I didn’t come from a family with, you know, lots of money that could just pay for my college education,” she said.
Dinner: Spartanburg, South Carolina
Spartanburg was once a textile city. It’s since attracted new industries like BMW but still features older businesses like the Beacon Drive-In.
At the Drive-In, owner Steve Duncan has all the customers he can handle. “It’s kind of hard not to make money right now, in my opinion,” he said.
Two of those customers, Faye and John Smith, are troubled by the direction of the country. Faye said she’s looking for someone to “make a big change.” She likes Cory Booker, she said, because “I just see a lot of Obama in him, when Obama was campaigning.”
Democratic voters in this Republican state know they have one shot to influence the election: the primary. Some want to be sure they take that shot on a candidate who can win. For Faye, that means ruling out female democratic candidates.
“Hillary came so close,” she said. “I don’t think the country’s ready for a female.”