South Carolinians weighing the best way to beat Trump

1 / 2

South Carolina voters check in at a polling station in Charleston during the Democratic primary election on February 29, 2020

South Carolina voters check in at a polling station in Charleston during the Democratic primary election on February 29, 2020 (AFP Photo/Joshua Lott)

Columbia (United States) (AFP) - For Travis Frierson, the stakes in the US presidential election are clear: he wants the United States to return to "normalcy" after four years under Donald Trump.

That's why Frierson, a 43-year-old restaurant manager, cast his vote Saturday morning in the South Carolina Democratic primary for former vice president Joe Biden, a moderate.

But other voters are convinced that the path to defeating the unconventional Republican president lies not with a centrist candidate but with someone who can spark a movement as passionate as the one Trump ignited on the way to his victory in 2016.

Those voters find their inspiration in progressive Senator Bernie Sanders, with his promise of universal healthcare, still a revolutionary concept in the United States.

"Trump is way too radical, and Bernie has that same kind of following behind him," said Frierson. "(He) talks like a dictator. So I want to go back to democracy."

- 'The best we can get' -

Frierson was lined up with dozens of other voters on a cold and sunny morning in Columbia, the South Carolina capital, even before voting began at 7:00 am at a suburban elementary school.

"I just want the best nominee that we can get in there that's going to bring normalcy back to the country," he said.

"Normalcy. Something that I think we all took for granted for a long time."

After losing badly in the first three states to hold Democratic nominating contests, Biden -- Barack Obama's former number two -- is looking for a big win in South Carolina, where polls show him as the favorite thanks to his popularity among the state's large black population.

But Sanders, who won in New Hampshire and Nevada and leads in national polls, looks likely to give Biden a run for his money in South Carolina.

The rise of the 78-year-old senator has caused mounting angst among many in the Democratic Party, with critics saying his agenda is too radical and too unpalatable to moderate voters; they say he stands little chance of defeating Trump in the general election in November.

- 'Swimming towards the poles' -

But Sanders's backers dismiss such talk.

"I think a progressive has the best chance of beating Trump," said James Westmoreland, a 44-year-old teacher, shortly after casting his vote for Sanders.

"Because the country is so divided right now," he added, "everybody seems to be swimming towards the poles. Not many people seem to be going toward the middle. So we need somebody to help balance things."

A black woman with a disability, who was waiting to be helped from her car, said she would also vote for Sanders.

The woman, who gave her name only as Mrs. Kennedy, said she knew it would be hard to beat Trump in conservative states, but added that she would not give in to pressure from more conservative Democrats against his nomination.

"I guess they're not ready for him," she said, before adding, "but I'm tired of the disrespect for our country. Our country deserves to be respected."

While a Biden victory is almost being taken for granted in South Carolina, where more than half of Democratic voters are African-American, Sanders's popularity deserves "very close attention," Kendall Deas, a political science professor at the College of Charleston, told AFP.

"Trump was essentially a movement that occurred in this country; his election was a movement," Deas said.

"And this time, in 2020, the Democrats may have to respond with a candidate who also is reflective of a movement to counteract what happened with the Trump election in 2016."