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Hundreds of voters from both parties descend on Charleston debate venue

With the debate in full swing Tuesday night, voters from both sides were making their voices heard outside

CHARLESTON, S.C. — On Tuesday night Charleston, South Carolina was the focal point of Democratic politics. 

It was the last time the potential Democratic presidential nominees took the stage together before South Carolina's First in the South primary and Super Tuesday.

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Voters in the Palmetto State will head to the polls on Saturday and absentee voting is already underway.

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With so much political activity expected in Charleston, voters and supporters from both parties descended on the Gaillard Center. 

For Democrats across the state and nation, it was an opportunity to appeal directly to candidates and hear from them on the debate stage.

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Janie Westenfelder and her friend, Michelle Songer, were decked out in Pete for America gear supporting candidate Pete Buttigieg. 

"Well for me, it’s a lot of social issues. So, we’re talking gun control, common sense gun reform, criminal justice reform, women’s right to choose, equality for all, voter rights. Those are the things that are so critical to keeping our democracy true to its promise when the Founding Fathers started our great experiment," Westenfelder said about the issues most important to her.

She also mentioned climate change and the need for more clean jobs in the state.

Westenfelder and Songer said there was nothing that could happen on the debate stage Tuesday night to change their support before Saturday. However, the two said they would "vote blue" no matter whom ended up with the nomination.

Elsewhere in Charleston, voters with the Conservation Voters of South Carolina were urging all the candidates to speak on climate change and its impact on the state, particularly Charleston.

“This is an emergency. This is something that can’t wait two years, three years, four years. People must be doing something right now, and that’s what I need to hear from every single candidate, what are they going to do? I mean there’s one who says on day I’m going to declare a federal emergency, I want every one of them to be able to say that," said Stewart Weinberg. 

Weinberg said he's lived in Charleston about 9 years and is very concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and rising sea levels. 

"My son, he developed asthma at the age of four. And we’re all being told that it’s environmental, meaning the pollutants that’s in the air. So, something needs to be done about that," said Raneisha Holmes.

Holmes, born and raised in North Charleston, said climate change and environmental justice are connected. 

The North Charleston native remarked how, in her view, minority communities are often in neighborhoods more likely to flood, due to lower prices on properties, and then suffer the consequences without the economic means to help themselves.

Both Holmes and Weinberg both considered climate change their most important issue headed into 2020 voting.

From a nonpartisan perspective, the AARP of South Carolina said it was keeping an open mind on Tuesday night and was hosting a watch party for some of its members.

"One of the issues that we know as a country and especially in South Carolina is reducing the cost of prescription drugs. We’ve been at it now for about a year and a half with our ‘Stop the Greed’ campaign, focusing on how we can effectively reduce the cost of prescription drugs especially in South Carolina when you have 33 percent of our residents statewide who have a prescribed medicine that they’ve quit taking cause they can’t afford it," said Patrick Cobb with the AARP.

Cobb continued, saying they hoped candidates discussed social security and other benefit and retirement issues as well. He also urged candidates to address the need for affordable housing for retirees, especially in coastal communities.

Outside the venue, protesters and supporters gathered for hours leading up to the debate. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden had an active group of supporters, featuring a drummer and music from loudspeakers. Later in the evening, the group merged with some Pete Buttigieg supporters.

There were also protests for equal rights for all, Medicare for all, and people urging the Democratic Party to say "yes" on charter schools.

But, there were also supporters of President Donald Trump at the site on Tuesday night. 

Dozens of Trump supporters, many wearing MAGA hats and carrying "Trump Pence 2020" signs, stayed on both sides of the street to make their voice heard in support for the President's agenda and a second term.

"I'm hoping to hear a lot more of the same to be honest with you. With a lot less flack from the other side, maybe a little more help," said Terence Jenkins, a self-described Trump supporter.

"I mean I've listened to a lot of them, out of respect, and I just think they're so different that I don't think there's anything I can hear tonight," Jenkins added, when asked if Democrats on the stage could change his mind.

The Charleston native told WLTX he liked the President's work on the economy and international relations. 

Joe Jackson with the Republican National Committee said neither the national party nor S.C. GOP was putting money, time, or effort into asking their voters to participate in Saturday's primary.

Jackson added the SCGOP and RNC were placing their own billboards supporting the President around Charleston and had mobile billboards on vehicles to circle the area during the week.

South Carolina's primary is on Saturday, February 29th and polls will be open from 7am to 7pm. 

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