GALIVANTS FERRY, S.C. - Four Democratic presidential candidates descended on South Carolina on Monday for what organizers call the oldest traditional campaign speech event in the country, taking an opportunity to continue to make their cases ahead of the first Southern vote of 2020.
On Monday, Joe Biden, Bill de Blasio, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar spoke at the Galivants Ferry Stump, a biennial Democratic event that takes place in a rural portion of northeastern South Carolina. One by one, they addressed a crowd of about 2,500 gathered in the unincorporated community of Galivants Ferry along the banks of the Little Pee Dee River.
The event dates back to the 1870s, when former Civil War Gen. Wade Hampton arrived in Galivants Ferry as part of his campaign for South Carolina governor. Area businessman Joseph Holliday began to invite Democratic candidates to give campaign speeches from his Galivants Ferry store, standing on a tree stump to be seen above the crowd.
A tradition was born, and the Holliday family has continued to host the stump every other year preceding an election. The gathering is like a scene out of the South of days gone by, with politicians glad-handing and visiting over the strains of music, clog dancing and the aroma of chicken bog, a Lowcountry dish of chicken, sausage and rice.
These days, candidates speak not from the original pine stump but from the porch of the Hollidays' store, which has been recognized as a "Local Legacy" by the Library of Congress. On Monday, de Blasio characterized the event as "the center of the political universe."
A common stop for South Carolina's Democrats, this year's event is the first organized specifically for presidential hopefuls. One of them, Biden, has been here before, introduced to speak at the 2006 event by longtime friend and Senate colleague Fritz Hollings as Biden considered a 2008 presidential bid. This year, Biden was the first confirmed attendee.
"I know I'm going to offend another state," Biden told the crowd, after entering to music from a high school marching band and doffing his trademark Ray Ban sunglasses, "but this is my favorite campaign event."
Republicans are always invited to attend the stump but aren't allowed to speak. One of them, former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford, worked the crowd as he mounts his longshot bid to challenge President Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination.
As Sanford looked on, Klobuchar called out Sanford for his infamous absence in 2009, when he told staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was actually visiting a mistress in Argentina.
"We don't have a governor who hiked the Appalachian Trail," Klobuchar told the crowd of South Carolinians. "Oh that's right — you don't, either."
Buttigieg reminded the crowd of the generational contrast he presents to other 2020 hopefuls, pointing to John F. Kennedy's 1960 victory.
"If you think about it, that's how Democrats win," Buttigieg said. "We win when we offer leadership from a new generation, with new ideas."
Democratic White House hopefuls have been flooding South Carolina for nearly a year, taking opportunities to get to know and campaign to the state's heavily African American electorate, which plays a key role in its first-in-the-South primary and reflects those in other Southern states that follow quickly on the nominating calendar, offering candidates a proving ground to test their message. The stump meeting draws thousands of attendees from across the state, but Horry County, in which Galivants Ferry sits, is more than 80% white.
Longtime state lawmaker John Land served as this year's master of ceremonies.