By Sarah Martin
Polls may be indicating that national support for Democrat Hillary Clinton is diminishing, but the strength of her support in the Palmetto State as she mounts a bid for the 2016 presidency remains unclear.
Interviews with South Carolina voters suggest some ambivalence toward Clinton’s presidential aspirations as she copes with a widening investigation into the private email server she set up while serving as secretary of state.
“I think we do need a woman President,” said Monica Kemp, 48, a registered nurse at Palmetto Richland Hospital who identifies as a Democrat. “I think it would be great.” But Kemp said she has not made up her mind who she will support, and is particularly put off by what she called “the circus atmosphere” in the GOP field.
Clinton’s falling poll numbers have been dominating political conversations since the release in mid-September of a Washington Post-ABC News poll that showed support from Democratic-leaning female voters falling from 71 percent in July to 42 percent now, a drop of 29 percentage points in eight weeks. The Real Clear Politics (RCP) Average poll echoes that, reporting a drop of about 20 percentage points among the electorate nationally.
However, it is not clear if support in the Palmetto State is holding steady or following the national trend. When looking at the same RCP poll in mid-September, an average of 50 percent of voters still supported Clinton - above the national average, but lower than the past few weeks.
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, disagrees with the suggestion that Clinton’s support is fading away in the South.
“She’s leading the polls in South Carolina. It seems like her polling is still strong, and she’s still doing well,” he said. “I think (Vermont) Senator Sanders is starting to gain momentum, and there’s always the question of what happens if Vice President Biden gets into the race, but as of right now, Secretary Clinton is the frontrunner here.”
Kaitlin McClamrock, 19, a student at the University of South Carolina studying political science and women’s and gender studies, said in an email that she believes Sanders’ momentum stems from growing frustration among Democrats in the South who don’t feel like their voice is represented by Clinton.
“When Bernie Sanders announced and started gaining speed, Democrats in places like South Carolina, where they are more likely to feel repressed and more likely to be less moderate as a result of having so much conservatism surround them, flocked to him, and are dissociating themselves from the more center-left ‘moderate’ Hillary,” she said.
However, McClamrock said she believes Clinton is the best Democratic candidate because she has grown and evolved through all of her experiences.
“I have always been a fan of Hillary Clinton, and I feel like her policies have actually become even more aligned with my beliefs over time,” she said. “I do not see any other candidate on the field, Republican or Democrat, who has the experience Hillary Clinton has, the ability to work across the aisle, and the ability to appeal to a wide range of people… I think she is more than just ‘the best we’ve got’- I think she’s ‘the best.’”
Still, Clinton may have some work to do to bolster her standing among female voters. Even some African-American women in South Carolina, long a bulwark for Clinton, say they will take their time making up their minds.
Edna Harris, 56, a Columbia beauty shop owner, said she does not think she would support Clinton in the Democratic state primary this February.
“I’m for women, but I don’t think she is fit,” she said, recalling Clinton's emotional response during the 2012 election. “She has broken down and I don’t think that’s good for her to be a good President.”
Damond “Todd” Wilson, 41, who provides parking security for the lot outside of Harris’ salon, said he thinks the reports of Clinton’s dwindling support are not accurate.
“The media isn’t telling the true facts about her and it’s contaminating everything,” he said, adding that he is still planning on supporting her in the primary race.
The question of Vice President Joe Biden is especially important to note, as RCP’s Average national poll also shows his support growing and threatening Clinton’s lead. By Sept. 21, 20 percent of voters said they would support him, about equal to Sander’s 23.8 percent.
That surge may be reaching South Carolina as well, as both Kemp and Harris said they were likely to support Biden over Clinton if he were to enter the race.
“It doesn’t matter to me that (Clinton) is a woman. I’ve heard all about the emails and that wouldn’t affect my decision. But I would probably gear more to Biden, because of his experience as Vice President,” said Kemp.
Harris also pointed to Biden’s personality as a strength, noting, “He’s a strong person. He would stand up for himself.”