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Andrew Yang tries to spread his message to independents in South Carolina

The 60 people who packed into a tiny local library — a few donning "Yang Gang" paraphernalia — in a rural South Carolina town was a mix of old and young Democrats and self-proclaimed conservatives. The crowd for 2020 Democratic hopeful Andrew Yang stood out from normal political events in South Carolina, where party loyalties run deep. 

"I'm a conservative, I'm a Christian but I wanted to say my son has turned me on to you," one voter told Yang to a soundtrack of cheers when the candidate took questions from the crowd. "I pray that you can get [to DC] and remind people that they work for us and we don't work for them."

South Carolina's primary is key for any Democratic hopeful, but the state hasn't gone blue since 1976. Appealing to conservative voters could be essential to clinching South Carolina in the general election — but also could have big returns in the primary, which does not require voters to be Democrats to vote. 

"I think he has the capacity to bring in voters from progressives from independents from Trump supporters from conservatives to libertarians," said Florida resident and veteran John Peontek, who plans to vote for Yang after not voting in the 2016 presidential election. "I think he really can bring a lot of people in based on logic and ideas — good ideas — and being articulate in how they work."

Andrew Yang house meet and greet Columbia South Carolina
Yang meets with voters during a house meet & greet in Columbia, S.C. LaCrai Mitchell

But Yang's apparent cross-sectional appeal hasn't reflected in state polls where he's continued to register with less than 4% of likely Democratic voters in South Carolina and in the latest CBS News Battleground Tracker, Yang was only the first choice for 3% of voters across Super Tuesday states, including North Carolina. In an interview with CBS News, Yang said that momentum will come and that his message rings clear in the state.

"We're going to grow and grow and peak at the right time when the voting starts in February," said Yang. "There's no ideology behind it, it's just the advance of technology that's pushing many more of us to the side and so people on every political ideology see this and say, we have to come together and start solving these problems as a country or else it's going to continue to tear us apart."

The automation of jobs is an issue that hits close to home for 60-year-old customer service representative Cathy Benjamson, who traveled two hours from Wilmington, North Carolina, to hear more about Yang's message. 

"What's going to happen to all the jobs? All these people that are like me? I didn't go to college, I had to go work in the service industry...I even worry about myself because I don't see me retiring at 65," said Benjamson. "I'm voting Andrew Yang so I can secure my retirement."

Sellers Mayor Barbara Hopkins said it's important for presidential candidates to visit small towns because high poverty rates and continued displacement from Hurricane Florence in 2018 has left community members disappointed. 

"These people down here for a long time [in] lots of these small town rural areas and people have forgotten about them," said Hopkins, who has been the mayor of the town for the past decade. "We just want to make it known and make it one of the president's great ideas to say 'hey, we can do stuff for small rural areas too instead of the big cities outside all the time."

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