The 2020 Democratic presidential field swarmed Iowa to help a Cedar Falls school board member win a state Senate special election last week.
But the state Senate special election in South Carolina on Tuesday? Not so much.
Belge’s problem is that she faces longer odds in her special election than Giddens, who found it relatively easy to attract the notice of Democratic presidential contenders in a Democratic-oriented state legislative district carried by both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Belge, on the other hand, is running for a conservative-oriented district President Donald Trump carried by 24 points over Clinton in 2016. In recent years, Democrats haven’t even bothered to put up a candidate to contest it.
“We’ve reached out to a lot of campaigns,” said Eli Valentin, Belge’s campaign manager. “Some of them have not been responsive. We just try to move on and be grateful for the ones that have really given us the attention.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced Friday that her South Carolina team would canvass and phone bank for Belge, a Greenville County Democratic Party vice chair. Harris tweeted a fundraising link to Belge’s campaign last month and attempted to speak to her by phone but ended up leaving a message, a Harris spokesperson said.
Other 2020 Democratic prospects have also lent a hand, though their efforts have largely gone under the radar. Rep. Eric Swalwell’s (D-Calif.) congressional campaign told POLITICO he has someone on the ground assisting Belge’s campaign and had about a half-dozen people helping with get-out-the-vote efforts this past weekend. Swalwell also held a meet and greet in January to support Belge’s campaign and donated $500.
Former Vice President Joe Biden may record a robocall for Belge to be released Monday night, Belge’s campaign said, but his potential involvement hasn’t been finalized yet.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has contributed $1,000, the maximum donation, and dispatched volunteers to get out the vote. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who spoke at the Greenville County Democrats’ monthly breakfast on Saturday, personally canvassed with Belge, and his national team did virtual phone banking.
“We can’t treat the presidency like it’s the only office that matters. Glad I could knock on doors this morning with @TinaforSenate6 whose special election is just 3 days away. She is truly impressive!“ Buttigieg tweeted Saturday.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) spoke at the monthly breakfast in February, when she told Greenville County Democrats that Belge is the kind of leader they need, casting her as a problem solver running for office at a time when more women should be running for positions of power.
Still, those efforts add up to less than the avalanche of support Giddens received in his race in northeastern Iowa, where the top candidates went door-to-door for him, held rallies, raised money and sent get-out-the-vote emails for him.
Belge is facing longtime state Rep. Dwight Loftis in South Carolina, a seat that has been vacant since now-Rep. William Timmons (R-S.C.) was elected to Congress last fall.
“Being in Greenville, it is more a conservative bastion — or has been a conservative bastion — in the past,” Valentin said. “So I think it’s hard for people to see how we are able to do what we’re doing in an area where it hasn’t been challenged since 1970.”
“You can’t minimize where that seat is. The geographical location will be a very attractive area for candidates to really connect with voters,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist. “That’s a heavy voting bloc in the Democratic primary.”
Seawright added that it’s more important to highlight the fact that Democrats are focused on growing the number of Democrats serving in state legislatures than to focus on which ones are getting attention from 2020 Democrats.
“I don’t think we need to be arguing about whether it was more helpful in one place versus the other,” Seawright said. “The main thing is I think there was help given both ways. At the end of the day, I think there’s always the argument of more help could be made or more help can be had or sent. However, I think help is help.”
Melissa N. Watson, executive director of Emerge South Carolina, an organization that recruits and trains female Democrats to run for office, said the group is grateful that Democrats are giving support to one of their own. Belge is a member of the group’s latest class of trained candidates.
“We are not a state that typically gets a lot of love on the national level,” Watson said. “I think it’s great that we’re getting it, and this could be the help that we need to flip that seat. We say seats are typically conservative, but I don’t know how red all of these seats really are. We haven’t always had strong Democratic candidates run in every district.”
Greenville County Republican Party Chairman Nate Leupp said he’s not surprised Democrats aren’t racing to appear alongside Belge or publicize their involvement in her campaign.
Belge’s campaign acknowledges that it’s an underdog but notes the county is trending bluer and that her opponent brought in top state Republicans — Gov. Henry McMaster, Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette and state House Speaker Jay Lucas — for a fundraiser last week.
“They know the national ramifications if we win,” Valentin said of South Carolina Republicans. “It’s gonna send shockwaves through the southeast and across the country that even in little old South Carolina there’s a wave coming. I think that’s why they’re a little nervous.”