MOUNT PLEASANT, South Carolina — The Democratic Party of the State of South Carolina failed in an attempt to bracket a speech here by newly announced presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), calling a “press conference” that only one reporter—this one—showed up to.
It’s a shocking embarrassment given the fact the national Democrats had been promoting the event as a prebuttal to Paul’s big speech here, his first since announcing earlier this week he’s running for president of the United States.
In doing so, the state Democrats here actually undercut the stance Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) has taken on abortion in response to a line of questioning Paul trapped her into after mainstream media reporters attempted to trip him up on the subject. In fact, two high-ranking South Carolina Democrats—the vice chairwoman of the state party and the chairman of the Charleston city Democratic Party—went on record to defend aborting babies who weigh 7 pounds, which is in many cases mere days or weeks from birth.
“More reporters were in attendance than the legitimate number of Democratic candidates in South Carolina,” South Carolina GOP chairman Matt Moore said in an email to Breitbart News after the event, poking fun at the Democratic Party failures in his state. “Their bench is currently thinner than the Atlanta Braves’. If they were handing out speaking fees, Hillary might have attended.”
Paul had been scheduled to roll out his South Carolina presidential campaign at the U.S.S. Yorktown later in the day—which he did, with reporters from outlets ranging from Breitbart News, the New York Times, Bloomberg Politics, to television networks and more present, along with hundreds of supporters including high-profile lawmakers.
But the night before Paul’s speech, national Democrats—in conjunction with the South Carolina Democratic Party—called for a press conference in the Commodore Room at the Charleston Harbor Resort to bracket Paul’s speech with negative criticisms about him from the left. Usually, such matters will garner at least a little bit of press.
“In advance of Rand Paul’s official campaign launch in South Carolina on Thursday, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison and leaders from around the lowcountry will hold a press conference at the Charleston Harbor Resort at Patriots Point to discuss the damaging impact a Rand Paul presidency would have on young people, women, the middle class, and families across the Palmetto state,” the release sent out on Wednesday evening by national Democrats with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) read. “The state leaders will highlight the fact that no matter how desperately Rand Paul tries to rewrite his record, it’s impossible for him to hide from his reckless and outdated views during his launch in Mt Pleasant, or at any other point during the campaign.”
After RSVP’ingand checking in with plans to show up, this reporter made his way to the event to see what the local Democrats had to say and maybe ask a question or two. Arriving around 10:15 a.m., this reporter was the first—and eventually would be the only—person to show up from the entire media, and the only person to show up who wasn’t there as part of the official Democratic Party delegation despite the fact that several reporters were in South Carolina from national media outlets. The rest of the five or six people at the event were Democratic Party activists, including Chairman Harrison. Two college students, who were aligned with the College Democrats and were supposed to speak if there was a press conference, walked in and sat down in the chairs.
One local Democratic Party activist, who didn’t identify himself by name but was part of the group of officials there, set up a sign with tape stuck to the podium at the front of the room that branded the “press conference” for the SCDP—or South Carolina Democratic Party. The room—complete with about 20 chairs for all the reporters the Democrats were expecting—overlooked a beautiful and luxurious outdoor pool with lounge chairs, canopies, and palm trees all around it.
As the start time was getting closer and closer, the local activist who had just taped the SCDP sign to the podium called someone on his cell phone—presumably the national Democratic official who has handling RSVPs from press for the event—and asked for a list of RSVPs. Several minutes later, at this point well after the start time for the press conference, Harrison—the South Carolina Democratic Chairman—said they were waiting for a few other reporters to show up. Five or so more minutes later, when nobody did, he said that the local networks would just take a statement they could air on their broadcasts later. This reporter offered to do the same and just take a prepared statement, but Harrison and the other Democrats present insisted on rearranging the chairs in the room and having a circle roundtable discussion about their concerns with Rand Paul.
That’s when things got a little bit weird.
Kicking off the “roundtable discussion,” Harrison hammered Paul for “trying to claim he’s a new different kind of Republican, a Republican that will reach out to communities like the African-American community and Hispanic community.”
Harrison said that Paul “says that ‘I’m the Republican that can reach out to African Americans’ well, I’m sorry when you don’t support the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and you don’t support important civil rights legislation and you make these gaffes about these various things in civil rights history, that’s not the way to—“
At that point, this reporter interjected asked him what he thinks of Paul’s work on criminal justice reform, and specifically about his REDEEM Act with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) where conservatives and liberals agree the government has been sometimes too heavy-handed in dealing with nonviolent offenders on minor crimes. Harrison actually ended up praising Paul for the criminal justice reform work, but argued Paul hasn’t done enough for the black community because Paul is an ardent opponent of Obamacare.
“That’s one issue,” Harrison said. “The African-American community is not monolithic. We aren’t only concerned about criminal justice issues. We are concerned about healthcare and he doesn’t support the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid expansion that would take place and would help, here in South Carolina, almost 400,000 people in this state. I applaud him for working with Sen. Booker and I would love to see more of this partisan working across the aisles to try to get things done on behalf of the American people but when you take a look at things like shutting down the government and everything else he had one good day. That does not mean you are now qualified to be president and to say that you have this mantle of ‘I can bring people together,’ because that’s just not his record.”
At that point, this reporter asked the panel of Democrats for their thoughts on abortion—specifically whether any of them would back allowing a seven pound baby to be aborted in the uterus, a question Paul himself had put to DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz the day before in Milford, New Hampshire, when the mainstream media was coming after him. Wasserman Schultz still hasn’t answered the question Paul put to her personally, but these local Democrats did a great job answering for her.
“I think on that part, too, the Democratic Party is diverse. People have a range of thoughts on that,” Brady Quirk-Garvan, the chairman of the Charleston, South Carolina Democratic Party, answered first.
“I mean, a seven pound baby is like a week from being born,” this reporter said, wondering why Democrats like these would support aborting a baby that late in a pregnancy.
“It’s a ludicrous question,” Kaye Koonce, the vice chairwoman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said. “He [Paul] was deflecting the questions to him to a ridiculous question to someone who’s not running for president.”
“I think that’s real piece,” Quirk-Garvan added. “Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a wonderful congresswoman who is not running for president. Rand Paul is and he won’t answer where he stands on abortion and I think that’s the real question: Where does he stand as the person who’s wanting to be in the White House? To me it seems like it’s more games on his part. You know, he deflects the question.”
They still weren’t being clear with their answers, so this reporter followed up again: “But would anybody here support aborting a seven pound baby in the uterus?”
“Would anybody anywhere?” Koonce asked in response.
“Well then why didn’t the chairwoman answer that?” this reporter asked again.
Koonce said that Wasserman Schultz hasn’t answered Paul’s question because she’s a career politician.
“Well, I think she is a politician just like he is and actually her answer was ‘I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved,’ so if there’s some doctor out there that said that was a necessary procedure and that’s what he advised his patient then that should be between the two of them not the government,” Koonce said. “Rand Paul was for exceptions to the abortion ban before he was against them. You can’t get a straight answer from him on that. I would love for you to be the reporter when you go down the street today to get that straight answer from him on exceptions to the abortion ban.”
At that point, I followed up with Koonce again. “And also kind of following up on her statement that the government shouldn’t be involved, do you take that to mean the government shouldn’t be funding Planned Parenthood or should they be involved in that avenue?” this reporter asked.
“It was in the decision between the woman and her family and her doctor on what to do—not who would fund what would be done,”she said. “You see? I don’t think that was a part of her question and at the end of the day it’s way over my pay grade.”
“Planned Parenthood does a lot more than just abortion related type things,” Harrison jumped in.
Later, after the Democrats defended Obamacare as a “success” for several minutes, the conversation turned to all the new polls showing that Hillary Clinton—the likely Democratic Party frontrunner in 2016—is trailing Paul in several key states like Colorado, Pennsylvania, and now Iowa.
“I think that we would welcome—and would beat—any Republican, but we would really welcome Rand Paul to be the GOP nominee,” Quirk-Garvan said in response to a question about the Democrats’ thoughts on why Paul is beating Clinton in major polls in presidential swing states right now. “He is a far right wing ideologue. And I think when it’s early and people haven’t gotten a chance to meet him all that much, he sounds nice on the surface. But I think a year and a half of exposing Rand Paul for the right wing lunatic that he is will go a long way in driving his poll numbers down. So if the Republican Party wants to nominate him, more power to them—and we look forward to defeating him in 18 months.”
Harrison used his answer to hammer Paul for his interview on the Today show, suggesting that his battle with Savannah Guthrie over unfair questions showed Paul to have thin skin.
“And I’ll tell you what, if he couldn’t take the questioning on the Today show without getting upset, let him go to a few Iowa fairs and go to New Hampshire in the winter and then come down here to South Carolina and get roughed up a little bit by some of the questions he’s going to get from everyday Americans in these states,” he said. “His skin is too thin to be president of the United States. He doesn’t think that someone should question his thoughts, his ideology or his beliefs. If you’re president of the United States, you have to be president of all the people not just some of them and not just yourself. I just don’t think Rand Paul has the mettle, the gravitas to be president of the United States. But if the Republicans want to nominate him, go right ahead.”
Koonce implied she thinks Paul is sexist.
“I think it’s telling with all the kerfuffles that two times he’s sort of ‘shushed’ female reporters and yesterday someone I think whispered in his ear that he needs to be just as big a jerk to male reporters so it’s not so obvious. Then he chooses Debbie Wasserman Schultz to question—someone not running for president,” Koonce said.
Unforturnately for Democrats, the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters undercut that line of criticism with a simple tweet. “Rand patronizing women reporters is a catty, clever DNC line. But it’s not accurate. I can attest,” Peters wrote via Twitter, adding that Phillip Elliott of the Associated Press and John Harwood of CNBC can back him up on that.
After that, the Democrats sought to use the roundtable to hammer Paul on student loans and on the “Paycheck Fairness Act”—a Democratic messaging bill that Paul hasn’t voted for—for several minutes before this reporter told them he had to go cover Paul’s speech, bringing the painfully awkward session to an end after nearly 20 minutes.