The first 2020 presidential candidate to campaign in Aiken made a sweeping appeal to South Carolina and Georgia voters Saturday by way of policy and platform discussions, some more locally applicable than others.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, spent the evening at USC Aiken, speaking at length to hundreds of people in a gym and, before that, to an overflow crowd gathered outside on a nearby lawn. The event was attended by a total 925 people, according to her campaign.
"This is our moment in American history. It comes to us … to get organized, to build a grassroots movement, to persist and to build the country of our best values," Warren said, wrapping up her stump speech. While addressing the outdoor crowd, the senator said she was ready to turn the two-state region, a Republican safe haven, blue.
"I've got bad news and good news. The bad news is there's no more room inside," Warren said. "The good news is there's no more room inside."
Warren spent the night largely discussing what she would roll out if elected; "big, structural change" was a refrain of hers. The senator specifically mentioned cracking down on corruption, stimulating historically black colleges and universities, canceling student loan debt, overhauling health care and insulating elections and voters from outside influence, namely Russia.
Other plans were teased. Among those hinted at: her so-called "Plan for Rural America." That agenda, fleshed out in an Aug. 7 Medium post, includes public-option broadband and a promise to curb what she has called exaggerated coverage maps.
In an interview with the Aiken Standard before the event, Warren said improved access to internet is a national, "urgent need," one that has roots in prosperity.
"Much of rural and small-town America is just cut out of the 21st century economy because they don’t have access to high-speed internet," Warren said. "That has to stop."
Internet access in Aiken County is strong – upward of three-digit speeds – in downtown Aiken, beyond the bypass, near the Savannah River Site and in the greater North Augusta and Augusta areas, according to a study prepared by the Center for Applied Innovation and Advanced Analytics, a facility at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
That's basically the western half of the county. Access all but disappears headed east: north and south of Windsor, down the Wagener Road corridor, and on both sides of I-20. Roughly 12,000 county residents lack access to even the most basic internet service, according to the innovation and analytics study.
"A person should have a chance to build a secure future, wherever they live in America," the senator said in the same pre-event interview. "High-speed internet is a part of that."
Rural to Warren, she explained Saturday, is about availability of services – it's not the stereotypical farmland-and-cows scene.
"It's about whether there's enough density that businesses come in and help create more opportunities," Warren said, later mentioning her Oklahoma heritage.
Warren is the first presidential candidate to come to Aiken this cycle. Fellow Democratic candidates U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have rallied in Augusta and North Augusta, respectively.
Both Aiken City Council member Lessie Price and Aiken County Democratic Party Chairman Harold Crawford Jr. were seated directly behind Warren during her speech.
Price, who is also involved with the state party, said Warren exuded energy and attracted a diverse crowd. Crawford said the senator is a "vibrant, driving force" but emphasized he was not endorsing anyone.
"I think she's looking good," Crawford said. "I think there's a couple of others that are looking good."