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Amy Klobuchar's uphill battle in South Carolina

Klobuchar discusses her debate performance
Amy Klobuchar describes 10th Democratic debate "little less of a slug fest" 05:06

When Amy Klobuchar took the stage at the South Carolina Democratic Party's "First in the South Dinner" Monday evening, it was just her ninth time in the state since launching her presidential campaign more than a year ago. The Minnesota senator delivered her pitch to the room of about 850 voters. 

"I will restore that sacred trust between the president and the people that she represents," Klobuchar vowed. "You know how important this election is and I can say this: I know you and I will fight for you."

"I know you" may be one of Klobuchar's signature lines, but a number of South Carolinians aren't feeling the same way about her in the runup to the state's primary on Saturday.  

"I think she's likeable, but we don't know her," said Sh'Kur Francis, Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Lancaster. The faith leader first met Klobuchar in early 2019 over lunch, but has not heard back from the campaign since.  

"She invested everything in Iowa and New Hampshire, and she saw fruit from that," Francis said. But Klobuchar's surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire held little sway with Nevada voters, and Francis predicts the results for her will be similar in South Carolina on Saturday: "I'm expecting the same thing in South Carolina. You can't expect to do well where you're not known, and Senator Klobuchar is not a well-known figure here."

Breaking down the demographics of "the black vote" in South Carolina 02:22

Faith and political leaders across the state who expressed reservations expressed similar doubts about her appeal to African American communities, the dominant voting bloc in South Carolina.

"You cannot just show up to black churches or black people a week before this debate here in South Carolina or two weeks before the primary. It's just an insult and it's disrespectful," said South Carolina Democratic National Committee member Clay Middleton said, in response to reports that Klobuchar's team recently had to ask for a list of black churches in the state.

Middleton who was also a South Carolina-based senior adviser for Cory Booker's presidential bid, added that he doesn't believe Klobuchar has a campaign infrastructure in the state. He said that shows "she did not value the folks here in South Carolina" or that she conceded this contest to other candidates.

"I think for those 25 people that are going to parachute in, it will be a good experience for them but I don't think it's going to penetrate at all."

Despite exceeding expectations in New Hampshire, Klobuchar finished at the bottom of the pack in Nevada, the first state with a majority of the population who are minorities, with 4.2% support. And the latest CBS News poll shows her at 4% among likely primary voters in South Carolina. Among black voters here, only 2% said the Minnesota senator is their first choice candidate. 

A political operative with knowledge of the campaign's operation tells CBS News that Klobuchar's scant presence in the state has been in part due to limited resources. The source also adds that her newly-expanded state operation "does not take away from the months and months other people spent" traveling across the state. In the days leading up to the South Carolina Democratic primary, CBS News has learned that Klobuchar's staffers feel stifled by last-minute oversight from campaign headquarters. 

While Klobuchar currently employs 25 full time staff members in South Carolina, she had fewer than ten in the state prior to the New Hampshire primary. Her nine South Carolina visits included high-profile events like Congressman Jim Clyburn's "World Famous Fish Fry" and the Galivant's Ferry Stump event, while she skipped other cattle calls like Betty Henderson's cook-off. She fielded some criticism last month when she wasn't on the schedule for the King Day at the Dome, an event she ultimately attended.

Her campaign declined a request for interview from CBS News, but said in a statement that she has "continued to staff up in South Carolina as well as every Super Tuesday state" following a "strong finish in the New Hampshire primary."

"Throughout the cycle, Klobuchar has frequently visited the Palmetto State and has had staff on the ground since June, putting her in a position to compete on Saturday and in Super Tuesday states," her campaign said. "Additionally, the campaign has conducted sustained outreach in African-American communities across the state, including hosting routine meetings with key faith leaders and activists."

Klobuchar is not without support here. Her pitch on middle- and working-class values has reached some voters.

"As long as I'm in South Carolina and she's still on the ballot, you know, I'm gonna vote for her in the primary. And that's how I was with Obama too, I didn't think he would get the nomination. And yet I worked my heart out on his campaign because I liked his value," said Gretchen Barbatsis who donned an Amy Klobuchar button during the First in the South dinner Monday evening. "I don't think she's gonna win the nomination but I'm gonna support her as long as she's in because I think she represents the values that are important. She's a real centered person."

To date, the campaign has invested just under $600,000 in cable and broadcast television ad buys in markets across the state—a total that has gone up by nearly $200,000 in just the past few days. And a pro-Klobuchar Super PAC has spent nearly $1.2 million in ad spending across the state. 

"I haven't seen anyone speak for her, I've just seen her in passing on the television screen," undecided voter Pat Wright-Dawson from Charleston told CBS News. "I'm trying to make a sound decision of who I want to go with right now. You try to keep an open mind."  

Those open minds proved helpful to Klobuchar in New Hampshire, where over two-thirds of those ultimately in favor of the Minnesota lawmaker decided just days before the primary.

But while just 46% of likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina say they've definitely made up their mind according to the latest CBS News poll, an additional 45% say they've probably come to a decision. Only 7% say they'll probably end up changing their mind.

"Her performances in the debate and in the New Hampshire primary have piqued interest in her again. I just think she's going to [have to] work at pulling them fully in," said Kate Franch, chair of the Greenville county Democratic Party Kate Franch.

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