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"Jim Crow is sneaking back," Biden tells South Carolina crowd

Biden and Sanders fight for Trump voters
Biden and Sanders fight for Trump voters early in 2020 campaign 05:43

Columbia, S.C. — Former Vice President Joe Biden rang the alarm that "Jim Crow is sneaking back" at a campaign rally in South Carolina, the south's first primary state that is seen as key to clinching the Democratic nomination. Biden launched his third bid for the presidency on April 25 in Pennsylvania, and crisscrossed Iowa before heading to South Carolina this weekend. 

Biden held a campaign rally Saturday in Columbia, the Palmetto State's capital and home to the University of South Carolina. Bidden added to his usual fighting-for-the-middle-class stump speech by calling for protecting voting rights and ending "systemic racism."

Biden cited numerous states' voting laws which he said are "mostly directed at people of color."

On systemic racism, Biden gave the example that if two men named "Jamal" and "John" applied for the same job, "John" would easily get the gig.

Rally attendee Jessica Ellmore, 33, said before the rally her top issues were criminal justice reform, the maternal mortality rate and gun violence.

Ellmore attended the rally because she likes Biden but does not want to pigeonhole him only as former President Obama's second-in-command. 

Biden received one of his loudest applause lines when he vowed, as he had at other rallies, to repeal the tax cuts passed by the Trump administration.

Ruby Hall, who described her age as "60-plus," said before the rally that repealing the tax cuts was one of top issues because she paid an extra $500 this year and attributes this to the tax cuts.

Hall clapped and found a Biden sign to wave when she heard Biden's promise to repeal.

During the 2018 midterms, Biden stumped for other Democratic candidates across the state, boosting his popularity.

"I think he enjoys favorability, likeability, and favorability through the party," Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist based in South Carolina and a CBSN contributor said. "It was pretty evident in the 2018 midterms that he was one of the most — if not the most — requested surrogates for Democrats up and down the ballot, across the country."

After the rally, the former vice president attended a "finance event" organized by State Sen. Richard "Dick" Harpootlian, who told CBS News the gathering would be a "well-appointed, well-attended event."

He talked with donors about what he expects during the campaign from President Trump, whose presidency Biden has framed as a threat to the character of the country. Since Biden announced his candidacy, Mr. Trump has been poking at Biden over Twitter as "Sleepy Joe."

"There's so many nicknames I'm inclined to give this guy," Biden said, to laughter. "You can just start with 'clown.'" 

"On every single issue and on every demeaning thing he says about other people, I have no problem responding directly," Biden said. "What I'm not going to do is get into what he wants me to do. He wants this to be a mud wrestling match." 

Before the campaign, he did say something about the president he now regrets --  that if he were in high school he would have taken Trump around back and "beat the hell out of him."

"Well guess what, I probably shouldn't have done that," Biden said Saturday, "I don't want to get it down to that level. The presidency is an office that requires some dignity."

Biden also alluded to having had private conversations with the president. "I let him understand what I think about him," he said.

And as he touted his foreign policy credentials, comparing himself to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and noting that he has met "virtually every major world leader," Biden also said that since Mr. Trump has been president, "at least 14 heads of state [have contacted] me -- including very, very conservative heads of state."

The host of the fundraiser said it's Biden's pragmatism that makes him the right candidate for next year's election.

"We have issues like Medicare for All and the Green [New] Deal and they are great ideas and I think Joe Biden will support the general sense of all of these things," Harpootlian told CBS News. "However, somebody is going to have to beat Donald Trump to make these things happen."

"We have a president who looks straight to the camera and lies and makes things up," Harpootlian added. "So you need somebody who is adept at responding to that. Nail him down."

Harpootlian said he has already raised "a bunch" of money for Biden but would not cite a specific amount.

Biden's connections to South Carolina go back years and are bipartisan, as seen with his eulogy for long-time Democratic South Carolina Sen. Ernest F. "Fritz" Hollings in April and his eulogy for Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond in 2003.

The former vice president has thrown his support behind a national $15 hourly minimum wage and greater healthcare coverage by presenting options for Americans to opt into a "public option" health plan through either Medicare or Medicaid.

According to a jobs report released Friday, the U.S. has an unemployment rate of 3.6 percent, the lowest in 49 years.

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