Democratic voters in South Carolina will not go to the polls until February 27, after Nevada’s caucus, so there have been comparatively few visits here among the two major candidates in that race.
Vermont US Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday made his first trip to the Palmetto State since January, stopping at colleges in Columbia and a Charleston auditorium.
During an appearance at the University of South Carolina, Sanders made his usual remarks about guaranteeing free public college tuition and student loan refinancing. At one point, he asked who in attendance would have debt after leaving school. Nearly all of the roughly 300 students in attendance raised their hands. “We should not be punishing people for getting a good education,” he told those gathered in the theater where he spoke. “You should be encouraged to get all the education that you need. Not punished for doing that.”
He also defended using a financial transaction tax on Wall Street to pay for the program, insisting it would serve the dual purpose of reducing speculation while increasing revenue for the federal government.
The Vermont senator faces an unlikely path to victory in South Carolina, at least according to polls. In South Carolina, African-Americans make up a majority of Democratic election voters. And they back Hillary Clinton by a 63-23 percent margin, according to a Public Policy Poll of South Carolina Democratic voters released on Tuesday.
He tried to build support among African-American voters on Tuesday, appearing at a breakfast with students of historically-black Allen University. He also vowed to take on issues like criminal justice reform and try to reduce tensions between police and the black communities they serve.
“We have got to achieve the day when young black males and women can walk the streets without worrying about being harassed by a police officer,” he said, pledging to improve police training and to hold officers accountable for crimes. “Police officers have got to learn to deal with disturbances, which are not so easy to deal with and I don’t suggesting they are, but there are ways to deal with them without using lethal force.”
Sanders also promised his administration would no longer ban marijuana at the federal level. “(It’s) listed as a Schedule 1 drug, right next to heroin. That make sense to anybody?” he asked to a chorus of ‘No!’ from students. “What we are going to do if I have any say about it is take marijuana out of the Controlled Substances Act. It should not be a federal crime.”
He did acknowledge states would still have the power to ban the drug on their own.
The senator does not have any immediate public plans to return to South Carolina this week, but will likely be back after the Feb. 20 Nevada Caucus.