Tom Steyer’s Surprising Popularity in South Carolina


Monday, February 10, 2020

Tom Steyer, a successful yet relatively unknown businessman, has surged to second place behind Joe Biden in polls among South Carolina Democrats. According to a Fox News poll, Tom Steyer was recorded at 15% among Democrats in the important early primary state. Compare that to his relative single-digit polling in most other states. 

He was second only to Joe Biden, beating Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are both strong candidates. 

Mr. Steyer joined the race much later than most of his competition. Most people wrote him off as having no chance, and some still do. But his unusual surge in the key primary state, South Carolina, should not be taken lightly. 

South Carolina is the first primary election in the south. According to Dr. Todd Shaw, the former Chair for the Department of Political Science at the University of South Carolina,  “South Carolina has typically served as a springboard for candidates. It’s a bell-weather for candidates to give them some indication of what their chances are. South Carolina isn’t always a faithful predictor, but it is a good predictor of how a candidate will do.”

Being a college student in Columbia, South Carolina, I’ve had a first-hand view of Mr. Steyer’s efforts in the state. There are multiple billboards around the city, along with campaign signs that line some areas of the sidewalk. Perhaps the most effective marketing is Steyer’s digital campaign. 

On my commute to work, I can expect to hear Steyer’s commercial on the radio at least once if not multiple times. When streaming online or watching old fashioned television, ads for Mr. Steyer will play at least every other commercial break. 

It’s clear Mr. Steyer is pouring a lot of resources into South Carolina. On television and radio advertisements alone, he has reportedly spent $12 million in the state. 

Former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges (D) told Politico, “It is kind of hard to blink your eye and not see a piece of Tom Steyer communication.”

I reached out to the Steyer campaign to ask what they thought brought them success in the polls of the early primary state. According to Patrice Snow, Tom Steyer’s national press secretary, Tom is doing well in the polls of South Carolina Democrats because he “is rallying South Carolinians with a message of environmental justice, economic fairness, and healthcare as a right for all Americans.”

She went on to explain that their “campaign [has] held almost 50 events and has over 90 staffers on the ground in South Carolina that are from the communities they are organizing in, talking to their family, friends, and neighbors about Tom.”

According to Jonathan Metcalf, Tom Steyer’s South Carolina state director, “Ninety percent of our staff are African American. Sixty percent of them are organizing within 20 miles of where they grew up.” 

Perhaps the most important factor in influencing Steyer’s poll numbers are his endorsements. Steyer has “secured key endorsements from well-respected African American leaders in the state who know Tom will fight for their constituents, including Johnnie Cordero, chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina, and South Carolina state representative Jerry Govan, chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus,” said Snow. 

South Carolina had a black population of 5.15 million in 2019. According to The New York Times, “Black voters [comprise] about 60 percent of the Democratic electorate.” 

It was reported that last year, Steyer met with several Black leaders in South Carolina, including Johnnie Cordero, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Black caucus. The group reportedly told Mr. Steyer to hire local black staffers and to use African American-owned vendors and businesses.

Given this information, the endorsement of influential Black leaders in South Carolina is a definite advantage for Mr. Steyer. 

Is his lead just a result of TV and radio bombardment? It’s easy to write it off as such, knowing the amount of money he’s spent on it thus far, but Team Steyer doesn’t think so. They believe people are beginning to realize that Tom can go the distance. 

“I think people have [started to] factor in the fact that, actually, I have three decades of studying what makes for a growing, job-producing economy of economic prosperity, as well as economic justice,” Steyer said of his new success in the polls. 

Furthermore, “His campaign also has 82 paid staffers on the ground, which— according to a tally from The Post and Courier— is the largest team in South Carolina, and his campaign leadership says it is loaded with staffers who know the communities in which they’re working,” Politico reports

Is Steyer’s success more than just a result of constant advertisements? We’ll find out if he’s made a real impact on February 29, 2020, when South Carolina holds their Democratic Primary. 


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Julia is a senior at The University of South Carolina studying political science and journalism. In addition to writing for Lone Conservative, she is also a student reporter for The College Fix.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Julia Johnson

Julia is a senior at The University of South Carolina studying political science and journalism. In addition to writing for Lone Conservative, she is also a student reporter for The College Fix.

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