Sen. Warren visits black-owned restaurant to boost her chances in South Carolina

Sen. Elizabeth Warren chats with a local patron at Bertha's Kitchen in North Charleston. (Nirmal Mulaikal/MEDILL)

By Nirmal Mulaikal
Medill Reports 

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — When Nicole Planter, 47, saw online that Sen. Elizabeth Warren was at her favorite North Charleston restaurant Friday, she scooped up her 6-year-old daughter and drove there.

“This was our chance to see the woman who might be president,” Planter said. “I wanted my daughter to see Warren because she represents girl power.”

Planter, a single parent and mother of seven children, and her daughter Ming’Le arrived at the restaurant as Warren was leaving. 

“She stopped to talk to us and encouraged my daughter that she could do anything,” Planter said. “She just was very down-to-earth and easy to talk to.”

Nicole Planter, 47, and her daughter Ming’Le, six, stand in front of Bertha’s Kitchen after talking with Sen. Warren. (Nirmal Mulaikal/MEDILL)

Warren visited Bertha’s Kitchen —a black-owned soul food restaurant located in a city where more than 46% of the population is African American. She ate lunch with Benny Starr, a rapper and progressive activist from Pineville.

“This is a mostly black neighborhood,” said Patricia Grant, a Bertha’s staff member who spoke with Warren. “It means a lot for her to come here because politicians usually don’t focus on areas like this.”

In South Carolina, 61% of Democratic primary voters in 2016 were African American.

With the critical Feb. 29 primary approaching, polls indicate that Warren is struggling to rally black voters here. Only 8% of African Americans in South Carolina support her, according to a February Quinnipiac University poll.

Those voters are supporting three other candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire Tom Steyer.

Biden, who is dropping in the polls in South Carolina, was the expected winner of the South Carolina primary because of his broad African American support.

However, his popularity among black and brown voters has diminished across the state, according to the most recent polls. Biden’s slowed momentum is especially worrying after he suffered poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire Tom Steyer have gained ground in South Carolina, eating away at Biden’s African American support and sitting second and third in the polls, respectively.

Both are investing heavily in advertisements and have campaigned across the state since the New Hampshire primary finished. Sanders is building upon his early success in the first two primary states, while Steyer, a political unknown, has essentially waged a one-state strategy.

This week, Warren cancelled more than $500,000 of South Carolina ads that were set to begin, according to multiple news reports. She did not cancel all of her ads, but the decision will reduce her profile in the last state to vote before Super Tuesday, March 3.

“People won’t see her then. But, coming to Bertha’s Kitchen was a way she could increase her visibility among black people on the ground in this area,” Grant said, adding that she believes Warren has “policies that work for them.”

Warren released “A Working Agenda For Black America” three months ago. It calls for student debt cancellation, ending mass incarceration, helping families buy homes in formerly redlined areas and supporting entrepreneurs of color. Collectively, Warren said the plans will support black communities that “have been locked out of opportunity.”

“She’s a strong woman who wants everyone to have insurance and wants better income equality,” Grant said. “Those messages especially resonate in this community.”

Grant said she is an undecided voter, but that Warren’s visit left an impression on the restaurant staff and patrons.

“There’s something to be said about a politician that makes ordinary people feel special,” Grant said. “You don’t see that every day.”

Photo at top: Sen. Elizabeth Warren chats with a local patron at Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston, South Carolina. (Nirmal Mulaikal/MEDILL)