CHARLESTON, S.C.—Standing at the head of a long line of people snaking around the Charleston Music Hall waiting to see U.S. presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren and musician John Legend on Wednesday is a mother of three who found it more financially prudent to be a stay-at-home mother than to work her full-time job in the hotel industry.
Brittney Pittman, 30, recently worked as an events manager and thought her salary was enough to support her three children until she and her partner did the math and determined that she’d barely break even working and paying for childcare, which she estimated would be close to $3,000 per month.
Her main reason for supporting Warren is because of the candidate’s childcare plan she believes can get her back to work while being able to raise her children. But she and more than a dozen supporters The Root spoke with throughout the night expressed concerns that many of Warren’s plans and the candidate herself are being overshadowed by her loud male opponents and mainstream media using language as “aggressive” and questioning whether her assertiveness is turning off voters.
Questions, Pittman says, should be asked as compliments, not negatives.
“That’s what we need,” she said. “Somebody that is willing to speak up and call people out on their crap essentially. She does that. When somebody is not telling the truth, she confronts them. She lets people know that this isn’t right. She calls people out. I don’t think she’s aggressive. I just think she’s frank and is to the point. It’s not aggression. It’s knowing what she wants to say, putting her message out there and not being railroaded by male candidates. They will railroad females if they’re allowed to.”
Dr. Rodney Johnson, an African-American man who works as a chiropractor, drove in from Myrtle Beach to see Warren and has been an early supporter. He likes that she speaks to the issues of race in her plans and believes she will reform the justice system in ways that will decriminalize many of the laws that get black men and women caught up in the criminal legal system.
Johnson, 52, said that sexism is definitely coloring how Warren is being perceived and that, as a black man, it should be expected that oppressed people are aggressive about pursuing their rights and fair treatment and that the passion with which Warren speaks to those issues is reflected in her message.
“Well, I say this: I am an aggressive type of person and for the things that you and I have experienced (as black men), somebody has to address it,” he said. “Because we’ve had a long time to do something and a lot of talking, a lot of recording stuff on video, a lot of marching. Something needs to happen and I love the fact that she is trying to make something happen. So I don’t think she is being aggressive enough.”
A light rain fell as hundreds of people waited in line to pack the music hall to see Warren and Legend. The hall doors opened around 4:15 p.m. and packed quickly. Hundreds weren’t able to get in, so Legend and Warren greeted them in the back of the hall and thanked them for waiting before rushing back inside. Indeed, the draw was as much the musician as it was the politician, but there were many who wanted to come to hear Warren convinced them why they should vote for her.
Warren has made a name for herself and her campaign as being the candidate with a plan for everything and being able to explain the most complex economic issues in the simplest of terms. But she continues to lag behind in fourth place in most polls and her traction with black voters is barely moving upwards, especially here in South Carolina where she’ll have to at least place third to show that she has a viable road to the nomination
A Clemson University poll released yesterday has her at fourth place with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Joe Biden is leading everyone with an 18-point advantage over Tom Steyer (second) and Bernie Sanders (third).
Warren’s surrogates, staff and volunteers around the country have been steadfast and hopeful that, as long as she is in striking distance, she has a shot. Indeed, history is on her side. Former President Bill Clinton didn’t win his first primary state, in 1992, until the sixth contest that took place in Georgia. Yes, that was Bill Clinton and there are a lot of factors in place that allowed him to come from behind and win, but the possibility is still there.
But, as many of her supporters and those undecided voters who were leaning towards her said, her gender is likely being used against her. But there are other issues like television exposure. For example, the Wall Street Journal and NBC News were strongly criticized for omitting her in a head-to-head poll of Democratic candidates versus Donald Trump.
Several people waiting in line said they came to see her because they don’t see her much on television like other candidates.
An African-American woman, Mia Johnson, said that she wants to support a woman, but that Warren’s gender is a major roadblock for her and that she doesn’t have as much television time as other candidates.
“She doesn’t have as many commercials as everybody else,” said Johnson, who works as a terminal manager for a trucking company in Charleston. “She hasn’t been out there more in the forefront. Tom Steyer has been in your face with all these commercials. I don’t dislike him, but it lets you know about him and it makes you think, ‘Hey. How about that person?’ I’m just sayin’.
Johnson has a point. Steyer is everywhere and his supporters have a very strong presence in South Carolina. At many of the events The Root has visited for meet and greets with the candidates over the course of a week, a Steyer representative is usually around. Turn on the television for an hour and you’ll likely see a Steyer ad. Warren ads are not so easy to come by. Part of the reason is that she resisted super PAC money for months until she admitted last week that it was impossible to compete with other candidates who used them.
“We reached the point a few weeks ago where all of the men who were on the debate stage all had either super PACs or they were multibillionaires who could rummage around in their sock drawers and find enough money to be able to fund a campaign, and the only people who didn’t have them were the two women,” she said during a campaign stop in Las Vegas last week. “At that point, there were some women around the country who said, ‘That’s just not right.’”
Warren said in her remarks last night that she is ready to go the distance and that she is a fighter who won’t give up, no matter how challenging the primary ends up being. She spoke of her mother who saved their home in Oklahoma after spending her life not working outside of it and how she’d tax the hyper wealthy to pay for HBCUs and healthcare.
Her fighting spirit hasn’t waned. Neither has the resolve of her online supporters.
Her campaign has been enjoying grassroots fundraising online from Twitter users and a record-breaking $2.8 million fund-raising day for her campaign after last Wednesday’s debate in Nevada after she dragged Mike Bloomberg for filth. There is some hope among many of the black people The Root spoke to that Warren can be competitive as long as she can maintain striking distance.
After the performance, many of the attendees rushed to their cars nearby to avoid the light drizzle of rain. Some gathered around in small groups, as Warren staffers asked people to sign up to volunteer for the campaign.
Standing at the corner were two energetic women with Warren literature excited about the candidate’s chances Saturday.
Phyllis Johnson, 65, who retired from the Air Force, said she was impressed by Warren’s remarks in the concert hall and that it is clear she has a plan for the country. She really liked that Warren had a lot of plans. Thinking about the two girls in her family that are 1 and 2 years old, Johnson said they need to grow up to become women who enjoy the same opportunities as men.
Johnson and Sheryl Monk, her friend standing nearby, brought up Hillary Clinton, who was harshly criticized for falling ill in that infamous video of her losing her balance on the way to her SUV back in 2016. It was revealed that she had walking pneumonia. Johnson says had that been a man, the media would have written it off as him having a bad day.
She bemoaned Donald Trump for being arrogant and selfish, saying that he doesn’t care about the country she spent her military career protecting. The country is in a much worse place economically and will only get worse if he is allowed four more years, she said. The only person who has enough plans and the right ones to reverse, Johnson said, is Warren.
“Give her the opportunity,” Johnson said. “Give Elizabeth Warren the opportunity to make it better because it’s only getting worse.”
Monk followed up: “Treat her like a man. Treat her like a man who has plans.”
Johnson nodded her head in agreement.
“Confident is the word he would be called,” she added. “For her, she’s overbearing.”