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Why the GOP stronghold of S.C. is now crucial for Democrat frontrunners

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris will rally for support in Myrtle Beach Monday afternoon, her second visit to the Grand Strand in her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The town hall event starts at 12:30 p.m. at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center on 2101 N. Oak Street.

The expansive convention venue indicates the Harris campaign is expecting a larger crowd than her first visit — an intimate gathering held at Big Mike’s Soul Food restaurant in March.

Harris was running third in national polls then — one of two dozen Democrats seeking the nomination to challenge President Donald Trump.

But her performance in the June debate going head-to-head with frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden on the issue of race and busing catapulted the freshman senator from California to second place.

That both Democratic frontrunners chose South Carolina as their campaign stomping ground for the 4th of July holiday weekend is no coincidence.

Winning this southern state’s early primary was the noteworthy strategy used by former Presidents Obama and Clinton to nail the party’s nomination.

That’s because South Carolina’s February primary is the first major test for Democratic candidates with the party’s crucial base of black voters.

Harris lagged behind Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in national polls with a 7% average before the June 27 debate.

Fresh off her debate victory and a national polling spike averaging 15%, Harris scheduled campaign stops in South Carolina including Horry County, hoping to gain traction with that base of the Democrat Party.

Harris’s polling numbers in the state were weak before the debate, behind Biden, Sanders, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg, mayor South Bend, Indiana, with only 8%, according to a Post and Courier poll.

Not willing to let his opponent monopolize the key state or his lead, Biden also planned visits to S.C. cities largely populated by black voters with a clear purpose — to apologize for his remarks on busing and segregation.

Biden opposed desegregating schools in the 1970s, a plan that bused some black children to white schools while also busing some white children to black schools.

Biden has been widely criticized by his Democrat opponents for working with other Democrat segregationists in the U.S. Senate to block the busing effort nearly a half century ago.

When questioned by Harris during the debate, Biden responded: “I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education, that’s what I opposed.”

When Biden appeared before a black audience in Sumter on Saturday, he told the crowd he regretted his comments, and was “sorry for any of the pain of misconception that caused anybody.”

Harris “applauded” Biden for recognizing the impact of his words, but says they still disagree on the issue of busing.

While in Myrtle Beach, Harris will likely try and shift the focus away from busing and instead tout her plan announced Saturday to “deal with the racial wealth gap” and spend $100 billion in taxpayer dollars to help black people purchase homes.

All of the Republican candidates made campaign stops along the Grand Strand during the 2016 primary race, including Trump who eventually won in a landslide vote.

2016 Horry County Republican primary results

49% Donald Trump
18% Marco Rubio
16% Ted Cruz
6% John Kasich
6% Jeb bush
5% Ben Carson

Hillary Clinton and Sanders skipped Horry County during the 2016 primary race, but Clinton held a town hall at the convention center before the General Election in November.

Clinton handily defeated Sanders in Horry County 67% to 32%, and statewide 73% to 28%.

Sanders spent this 4th of July holiday weekend in Las Vegas.

South Carolina does not register by party. In the 2016 general election, Horry County cast more than 88,000 votes for Trump and 39,000 for Clinton.

Trump also carried the state in the General Election, beating Clinton 55% to 41%.

Democrats aren’t courting South Carolinians in the hopes of winning the presidential race. They just need voters here to secure the party’s nomination.