South Carolina

2020 Guide: Who’s running for president and other essential info for SC voters

Shown are “I Voted Today” stickers at a polling place in Philadelphia, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Who is running? What do they stand for? Have they been to SC? We tackle these questions and more in our 2020 voter guide

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2020 Voter Guide

Who’s running? When do I vote? How can I learn more about candidates? We tackle these questions and more in our 2020 voter guides.

Keeping track of more than two-dozen major contenders vying for the presidency in 2020 can be a daunting task.

To help you, The State has put together a voter guide to help you navigate the packed Democratic presidential primary field and keep up with Republicans campaign in South Carolina, too.

First, the basic questions:

When is the primary?

South Carolinians get their first chance to weigh in on 2020 elections on Feb. 29, the date set for the state’s first-in-the-South Democratic presidential preference primary.

As of September, President Donald Trump has now three declared Republican opponents: former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. The S.C. Republican Party’s executive committee near unanimously voted in September to skip its 2020 presidential primary election.

Who’s running?

As of Sept. 23, twenty-three people are vying for the presidency of the United States: four Republicans and 19 Democrats.

Here’s a little bit you should know about each one, organized in alphabetical order by party.

The Democrats

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Submitted photo/Tracy Glantz/Gavin McIntyre

Michael Bennet

Current job: U.S. Senator from Colorado since 2009

Age on Inauguration Day: 56

Past experience: Before entering politics, Bennet was the superintendent of the Denver Public Schools system. He also served as chief of staff for then-Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (who also is running for president).

Has he visited South Carolina? Bennet has visited Summerton, Manning, Georgetown, Columbia and Fort Mill.

Major policy proposals: Thus far in the campaign, Bennet has touted his plan for combating climate change, which aims at reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050.

Joe Biden

Current job: Since leaving the office, the former vice president has focused on creating the Biden Foundation, the Biden Cancer Initiative and several other centers and institutes.

Age on Inauguration Day: 78

Past experience: Most recently, Biden served two terms as vice president under Barack Obama. Before that, he served in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009. During that time, Biden made two attempts at clinching the presidency, once in 1988 and once in 2008. Before his run for Senate, Biden served as a county councilman in New Castle County, Delaware, for two years.

Has he visited South Carolina? Biden started his trips to the Palmetto State in 2018 when he campaigned for then-gubernatorial candidate James Smith. Since then, he has returned for several stops in Sumter, Orangeburg, Charleston and Columbia.

Major policy proposals: Biden has largely campaigned on issues affecting the middle class like income inequality and tax reform, earning him the nickname “Middle Class Joe.” He’s also released education reform bills focused on universal pre-K.

Cory Booker

Current job: U.S. senator from New Jersey since 2013

Age on Inauguration Day: 51

Past experience: Before winning his Senate seat in a special election, Booker served as a city councilman and, from 2006 to 2013, as mayor of Newark. Before entering politics, Booker ran a nonprofit that provided legal services to low-income families.

Has he visited South Carolina? As of August, Booker wracked up the most campaign events in the Palmetto State. His trips have included stops in Columbia, Winnsboro, Denmark, Sumter, Simpsonville, Charleston, Rock Hill, Orangeburg, Union, Spartanburg, Manning, Conway, Lake City, Florence and Seabrook.

Major policy proposals: Booker has released sweeping plans to tackle criminal justice reforms if elected, including marijuana legalization and plans to help the incarcerated population.

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Submitted photo/Gavin McIntyre/Pablo Martinez Monsivais The State/AP

Steve Bullock

Current job: Governor of Montana since 2012

Age on Inauguration Day: 54

Past experience: Before serving as governor, Bullock was the Attorney General of Montana, an office he was elected to in 2008. He’s also done stints in Montana’s offices of the attorney general secretary of state. Before his years in Montana politics, he taught as an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School.

Has he visited South Carolina? No.

Major policy proposals: Bullock’s campaign has featured his ideas for cutting the influence of money from politics. He has proposed requiring every company to disclose their political contributions.

Pete Buttigieg

Current job: Mayor of South Bend, Ind., since 2012

Age on Inauguration Day: 39

Past experience: In 2010, Buttigieg made a run for Indiana state treasurer, winning the Democratic nomination but losing to the incumbent. While mayor, Buttigieg served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. Buttigieg also consulted on several political campaigns.

Has he visited South Carolina? Buttigieg has visited Greenville, Columbia, Rock Hill, North Charleston, Orangeburg , North Augusta, Beaufort, Hampton, Pineville, Georgetown, Hartsville and Charleston.

Major policy proposals: In April, Buttigieg faced criticism that he did not have policies on several major issues. Since then, he has made a major speech outlining his foreign policy plan, including ending long-lasting wars and treating climate change as a security threat.

Julián Castro

Current job: Running for president

Age on Inauguration Day: 46

Past political experience: Most notably, Castro served as the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the Obama administration, to which he was nominated in 2014. Before that, he held the offices of city councilman and mayor of San Antonio, beginning his stint in local government in 2001.

Has he visited South Carolina? Castro has visited Columbia, Goose Creek, Charleston, North Charleston, Greenville, Travelers Rest and Orangeburg.

Major policy proposals: On the campaign trail, Castro has pledged not to accept donations from corporate PACs and to pay his interns $15 an hour. Generally, he has supported liberal economic views.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Gavin McIntyre AP/AP/The State

John Delaney

Current job: Running for president

Age on Inauguration Day: 57

Past experience: Delaney served as a U.S. representative for Maryland from 2013 to 2019. Before serving in office, Delaney was a co-founder of commercial lender CapitalSource.

Has he visited South Carolina? Delaney has visited Clemson and Columbia.

Major policy proposals: In an attempt to stand apart from his fellow Democrats, Delaney has tried to take a more middle-of-the-road approach, blasting the Green New Deal and Medicare for All policies being put forth by his Democratic colleagues. He has pledged to work only on bi-partisan proposals during his first 100 days in office if elected.

Tulsi Gabbard

Current job: U.S. representative for Hawaii since 2012.

Age on Inauguration Day: 39

Past experience: Before her election to Congress, Gabbard served on the Honolulu City Council. Gabbard is a combat veteran who served multiple tours in Kuwait and Iraq. Between deployments, she served as a legislative aide to Senator Daniel Akaka from 2006 to 2009. Before deploying, she was a member of the Hawaii state legislature in 2002.

Has she visited South Carolina? Gabbard visited Columbia for U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s Fish Fry.

Major policy proposals: Gabbard has advocated for aggressive climate change reforms, including requiring electric utilities to employ mostly renewable energy by 2027. She also is proposing reaching zero emissions by 2050 and completely banning fracking.

Kamala Harris

Current job: U.S. senator for California since 2017

Age on Inauguration Day: 56

Past experience: Harris served as the attorney general of California from 2011 until her election to the U.S. Senate in 2017. Before then, she served as the district attorney of San Francisco, a position she won in 2003. From 2000 to 2003, Harris served in the San Francisco city attorney’s office, and before that, she was the deputy district attorney in Alameda County.

Has she visited South Carolina? Harris wracked up the second most visits to South Carolina as of August. She has visited Columbia, Hopkins, Greenville, North Charleston, West Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Hemingway, St. George, Rock Hill, Orangeburg, Holly Hill, Spartanburg, Hartsville, Florence, Marion and Anderson.

Major policy proposals: Though Harris has released several policy proposals, her S.C. visits have often focused on education reform. The California U.S. senator has called for a raise for teachers of about 23 percent on average.

Gavin McIntyre/Matt Burkhart/Gavin McIntyre The State/Greenville News/The State

Amy Klobuchar

Current job: U.S. senator from Minnesota since 2007

Age on Inauguration Day: 60

Past experience: Prior to her election to the U.S. Senate, Klobuchar served as the Hennepin County attorney, which she was elected to in 1998. She initially ran for the office in 1994 but dropped out of the race. Before, she worked as a corporate lawyer.

Has she visited South Carolina? Klobuchar has visited Columbia, Charleston and Greenville.

Major policy proposals: Like many of her fellow Democratic hopefuls, Klobuchar is for universal health care and supports expanding Medicare or Medicaid. She also is for changing the Affordable Care Act to accomplish those expansions.

Wayne Messam

Current job: Mayor of Miramar, Fla., since 2015

Age on Inauguration Day: 46

Past experience: In 2017, Messam was elected the president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials. In his first dive into local government, Messam was elected to the city commission of Miramar in 2011. Prior to that, he owned a construction company.

Has he visited South Carolina? He has visited Orangeburg, Spartanburg, Greenville, Columbia and Charleston.

Major policy proposals: The Florida mayor is in support of stricter gun laws and has worked on a local level to enact gun regulations. The platform even made it to his announcement speech.

Beto O’Rourke

Current job: Running for president

Age on Inauguration Day: 48

Past experience: O’Rourke served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2012 until 2018, when he decided not to seek re-election in favor of running for the U.S> Senate seat occupied by Sen. Ted Cruz. Before his time in the House, O’Rourke served on the El Paso City Council starting in 2005. Before political life, O’Rourke started the Stanton Street Technology Group.

Has he visited South Carolina? He has visited Rock Hill, Orangeburg, Charleston, Columbia, Bluffton, Ladson, Denmark, Clemson, Beaufort, North Charleston, Sumter, Spartanburg and Greenville.

Major policy proposals: While O’Rourke hasn’t focused in on one specific issue, his immigration policy calls for ending family separation and reforming the U.S. asylum process. He also advocates for strengthening relationships with counties from which immigrants are fleeing by supporting democratic and human-rights focused policies.

Susan Walsh/Gavin McIntyre/AP PHOTO AP/The State/AP

Tim Ryan

Current job: U.S. representative from Ohio since 2003

Age on Inauguration Day: 47

Past experience: From 2000 until 2002, Ryan served in the Ohio Senate. Prior to entering politics himself, Ryan served on the staff of then-U.S. Rep. Jim Trafficant, who was convicted in 2001 on charges including bribery and tax evasion.

Has he visited South Carolina? Ryan visited South Carolina for the first time after visiting for Clyburn’s fish fry and the Democratic Party Convention. He’s also visited Spartanburg and Greenville.

Major policy proposals: Coming from a town still struggling from the fall of American industrialism, Ryan has focused on the economy when it comes to policy issues. His plan promotes investing in innovation and promoting entrepreneurship, alongside rewarding businesses that keep operations in the United States.

Bernie Sanders

Current job: U.S. senator from Vermont since 2007

Age on Inauguration Day: 79

Past experience: Before his election to the U.S. Senate, Sanders served in the U.S. House of Representatives starting in 1991. The Vermont Independent served as mayor of Burlington from 1981 until 1989, even being named one of the best mayors in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. Sanders’ earliest political experiences include running for governor in 1972 and 1976, senator in 1972 and 1974, and attorney general in 1977 under the Liberty Union party.

Has he visited South Carolina? Sanders has visited Columbia, North Charleston, Charleston, Spartanburg, Greenville, Denmark, Orangeburg and Rock Hill.

Major policy proposals: While he was known for his heavy promotion for eliminating student debt during his 2016 run, Sanders has turned his focus toward expanding Medicare to be available to all Americans. His plan calls for a single-payer system. And yes, he’s still railing against the “millionaires and billionaires.”

Joe Sestak

Current job: Running for president

Age on Inauguration Day: 69

Past experience: Most recently, Sestak served as the president of First Global, which brought robotics students from across the world to compete in Washington D.C. Before that, Sestak was a professor at various colleges in Pennsylvania, teaching classes on ethical leadership. Sestak served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011. During his years in the military, Sestak rose to the rank of Admiral, deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan and — earlier in his career — Vietnam.

Has he visited South Carolina? No.

Major policy proposals: Sestak only recently entered the crowded election field, declaring in June. During his announcement speech, he advocated for including a public health care option, but not eliminating private health insurance entirely.

Carolyn Kaster/Gavin McIntyre AP/The State

Tom Steyer

Current job: Activist and running for president

Age on Inauguration Day: 62

Past Experience: Most recently, Tom Steyer has been behind the helm of the Need to Impeach campaign, aimed at encouraging legal action against President Donald Trump. Steyer spent millions on the ad campaign. In 2013, Steyer founded NextGenAmerica, an environmental advocacy nonprofit and political action committee. The year before, Steyer stepped down from his investment firm Farallon Capital, which he founded in 1986.

Has he visited South Carolina? Steyer has visited Charleston, North Charleston, Georgetown, Rock Hill, Columbia and the Upstate.

Major policy proposals: Though Steyer has not long been in the race, he has a long history of environmental activism and donating to causes and candidates that support protections against climate change.

Elizabeth Warren

Current job: U.S. senator from Massachusetts since 2012

Age on Inauguration Day: 71

Past experience: Warren was chosen by President Barack Obama in 2010 to help found the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a program she had advocated for for years. In 2008, she was appointed to chair a congressional oversight panel tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. From 2006 to 2010, Warren was a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Advisory Committee on Economic Inclusion. Before that, she was asked to advise the National Bankruptcy Review Commission in 1995. She also served as a professor at Harvard Law School during that time.

Has she visited South Carolina? Warren has visited Columbia, Greenville, Charleston and Seabrook.

Major policy proposals: Though Warren’s 2020 pitch is she has a policy proposal for everything, her focus has long rested on economic issues, including antitrust enforcement, wealth inequality, student debt and rent inflation. Specifically, Warren has proposed creating a tax for the 75,000 richest families in the U.S. to pay for things like universal childcare, student loan relief and Medicare for all.

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Eric Charbonneau/Submitted Photo Invision,AP/Submitted Photo

Marianne Williamson

Current job: Author and lecturer

Age on Inauguration Day: 68

Past experience: In 2014, Williamson ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in California and lost. She also has a long history of activism and advocacy, including serving on the board of world poverty organization Results, co-founding The Peace Alliance, writing women’s empowerment books, founding AIDS and hunger support group Project Angel Food and founding the Los Angeles and Manhattan Centers for Living.

Has she visited South Carolina? Williamson has visited Summerville, Columbia, Georgetown, Okatie, Hilton Head, Mount Pleasant, Charleston, Orangeburg, Anderson and Gresham.

Major policy proposals: In June, Williamson promoted the idea of paying reparations to the descendants of slaves. Her program would include forming a “reparations council” and could cost upwards of $500 billion, according to her campaign.

Andrew Yang

Current job: Entrepreneur/Running for president

Age on Inauguration Day: 46

Past experience: Most recently, Yang served as the CEO of Venture for America, a program he founded in 2011 that recruited top college graduates for a fellowship program working at start-ups in mid-sized city. (Venture for America’s closest operation was in Charlotte). From 2006 to 2012, Yang was the CEO of Manhattan Prep, a company aimed at preparing students for exams.

Has he visited South Carolina? Yang has visited Hopkins, Summerville, Columbia and Charleston.

Major policy proposals: Yang came out of the gate swinging with a policy of giving all Americans a “universal income” of $1,000 a month once they turn 18. To pay for the plan, Yang would consolidate certain welfare initiatives and create a “value-added tax” for businesses.

The Republicans

Susan Walsh/The State/Peter Hoffman/Jim Cole AP/The State/NYT/AP

Donald Trump

Current job: President of the United States

Age on Inauguration Day: 74

Past experience: Prior to entering politics, Trump ran his own group of businesses under the umbrella of the Trump Organization, which included real-estate, hotels, casinos and various other ventures. The company was initially founded in 1923 by Trump’s father, and he spent most of his life expanding it. Trump also hosted the reality show The Apprentice from 2003 to 2015.

Has he visited South Carolina? Since launching his re-election campaign June 18, Trump has not visited South Carolina, but he has since taking office in 2017. Trump visited Conway after Hurricane Florence. Trump also campaigned for S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster in Columbia during the incumbent governor’s re-election race in 2018.

Major policy proposals: Though Trump touts a strong economy as one of his achievements, his policy points and rallies often come back to the topic of immigration. The pro-border wall candidate, Trump has called for mass deportation and has continued to separate families at the border.

Mark Sanford

Current job:

Age on Inauguration Day: 60

Past experience: From 1995-2001, Sanford represented the 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House. He then served two terms as governor, from 2003-2011. In 2013, Sanford decided to run in a special election for his old congressional seat and won. He left Congress in 2019 after losing his GOP primary election — the first electoral defeat of his political career.

Has he visited South Carolina? Sanford still lives in South Carolina and has remained connected to the community. He has acknowledged, however, that his campaigning in the Palmetto State will be fairly limited, as the S.C. Republican Party voted recently to cancel its 2020 presidential primary election in deference to Trump’s incumbency.

Major policy proposals: Sanford has made it clear he intends to campaign on the mounting federal debt, which he sees as a national emergency, and the urgency to restore fiscal discipline to government spending decisions. Sanford has also spoken in opposition to tariffs and the importance of acknowledging climate change.

Joe Walsh

Current job: Conservative talk show radio host

Age on Inauguration Day: 59

Past Experience: Most recently, Walsh served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013. His previous political experience includes two failed runs for Congress in 1996 and 1998. Before entering politics, Walsh worked in various advocacy and financial positions, including running a scholarship fund and working at a libertarian think tank and a political action committee.

Has he visited South Carolina? No.

Major policy proposals: Though Walsh has not released any substantive proposals since launching his campaign Sunday, the former congressman is attempting to appeal to conservative voters who are seeking a candidate with traditional Republican values and less “baggage” than Trump.

Bill Weld

Current job: Running for president

Age on Inauguration Day: 75

Past experience: Before launching his 2020 run, Weld was a member of the Libertarian Party, running on a ticket with Gary Johnson in 2016. Weld campaigned for Mitt Romney during the 2008 presidential race. In 2005, Weld ran for the Governor of New York, but later withdrew from the race. Earlier that year, Weld served as the chief executive of Decker College in Kentucky, overseeing its closure due to bankruptcy. In 1990, Weld ran for governor of Massachusetts, winning, but later resigning the governorship in 1997 to try to push his nomination for U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Has he visited South Carolina? No.

Major policy proposals: Weld’s campaign for president has remained largely quiet, but the former governor was well known for being a fiscal conservative, signing 15 tax cuts while in office. He also advocates for free trade.

The Dropouts

Eric Swalwell: July 8, 2019

Mike Gravel: Aug. 6, 2019

John Hickenlooper: Aug. 15, 2019

Jay Inslee: Aug. 21, 2019

Seth Moulton: Aug. 23, 2019

Kirsten Gillibrand: Aug. 28, 2019

Bill de Blasio: Sept. 20, 2019

How can I learn more about these people?

Since South Carolina is the first southern state to vote in a primary, it’s a popular campaigning spot for everyone hoping to become president.

In 2018, candidates — Biden, Booker, Harris and Sanders — were already making moves across the state. By mid-September 2019, all the hopefuls had combined totaled more than 300 stops in the Palmetto State.

Also tune into one of the Democratic primary debates. So far, three have been completed: June 26 and 27 on NBC; July 30 and 31 on CNN; and September 12 on ABC. There will be more each month until April 2020. The next will take place on Oct. 16, and will be hosted by The New York Times and CNN.

We’ve also made a quick guide to where the top-polling candidates stand on some issues here.

*NOTE: The chart is limited to candidates that consistently made it on South Carolina specific polls. The issues were chosen after an analysis of the results of a State Newspaper reader survey.

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Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.