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Democrats hope whirlwind efforts in South Carolina pay off Saturday

Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a campaign rally at the Charleston Area Convention Center in North Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday. Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 28 (UPI) -- On the final day before the South Carolina Democratic primary, the party's presidential candidates finished whirlwind campaigning they hope will inject life into their prospects for the nomination in a little more than four months.

The candidates, who tried to promote their agendas at a debate in Charleston Tuesday night, traveled all over the state this week in a bid to pick up new voters. Heading into Saturday's vote, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remains the clear front-runner.

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Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttegieg said he understands that gaining African-American support is necessary to win the Democratic nomination. He has won support from a few prominent African-American political leaders -- including Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who said Buttegieg has a vision that's "inclusive of everybody."

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Saturday's primary is critical because the state's voting electorate is nearly 60 percent African-American and the contest is viewed as the first test of the candidates' popularity among a significant share of minorities. Buttegieg finished a distant third in Nevada, where less than 20 percent of participants were of Latin descent.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, who rated high in a recent Monmouth University poll, is expected to do well in South Carolina -- a win that would greatly help his chances at the nomination. Biden severely underperformed at early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

"I'm running for president to offer our country a different path -- not back to a past that never was -- but to a future that fulfills our true promise as a nation," he said late Thursday.

Biden, at a town hall meeting on Wednesday, empathized with a pastor whose wife was killed in a 2015 shooting attack at a Charleston church -- as he lost his wife and daughter in 1972 and his son in 2015.

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"I kind of know what it's like to lose family, and my heart goes out to you," he said.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke at a rally in Charleston Thursday, at which she was endorsed by local musical artist John Legend. She has also criticized President Donald Trump this week for his response to the coronavirus outbreak.

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"We're looking at a serious economic downturn ... and the Trump administration is bungling every aspect," she said Friday. "I have a plan to combat this outbreak and make sure our economy works for everyone."

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Billionaire Tom Steyer pledged to support South Carolina farmers and protect them from what he called a "failed" trade war with China, and said he will safeguard religious minorities.

"As president, I will not only reverse Donald Trump's policies that target religious minorities, I will also work with our international allies to pressure India to improve its treatment of Muslims," he said.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's campaign has surged in recent weeks after a third-place finish in New Hampshire, where she won six delegates. She hopes a similar performance in South Carolina will propel her into Super Tuesday with momentum.

"I need your help now more than ever before," she said after Tuesday's debate. "Help me take on Donald Trump and win the White House."

A wildcard in South Carolina may be a record number of absentee ballots that have already been cast. Officials said 56,000 were already in by Thursday, 50 percent more than it saw at this time four years ago.

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