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Democrats gear up for 2020 hiring blitz in crucial early primary state South Carolina

Key Points
  • Democratic presidential hopefuls are on the verge of going on a hiring binge in the crucial early primary state of South Carolina as they look to staff up for a bruising 2020 campaign.
  • One of the major players in the mix is former Vice President Joe Biden, who has yet to declare his candidacy.
  • South Carolina is slated to hold its primary Feb. 29, 2020, following the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary and the Iowa and Nevada caucuses earlier that month.
People arrive to vote in the South Carolina Democratic primary in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 27, 2016.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Democratic presidential hopefuls are on the verge of going on a hiring binge in the crucial early primary state of South Carolina as they look to staff up for a bruising 2020 campaign.

One of the major players in the mix is former Vice President Joe Biden, who has yet to declare his candidacy but is considered the early frontrunner.

"I anticipate in the next two or three weeks we will see an increase in staff," Trav Roberston, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, told CNBC. "We will be almost one year from a primary in South Carolina at that time. I do get occasional questions if I've heard of people looking for opportunities. I forward their resumes to whoever I may know of that may work for their respective campaigns."

South Carolina is slated to hold its primary Feb. 29, 2020, following the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary and the Iowa and Nevada caucuses earlier that month. Longtime South Carolina political consultants believe a victory in the state's primary in 2020 could go a long way in determining the party's eventual nominee.

"The voting demographics of primary voters in the state are very reflective of many of the state that follow and S.C. will serve as a real test of organizations strategy, bandwidth and staying power," said Antjuan Seawright, South Carolina Democratic strategist and CEO of the firm Blueprint Strategy. "So we command the best, and that's why you see candidates running political stop signs, and breaking speed limits to get here."

The 2016 United States Census Bureau survey shows that a majority of South Carolina's voting age population ranges from 45 to 64 years old. Sixty-nine percent of election participants are white, while 27 percent are listed as African-American.

The Biden factor

Meanwhile, Biden's political advisors have been reaching out to seasoned political operatives in the state to see if they would join the former vice president's operation if he runs, according to people familiar with the discussions who declined to be named.

Although Biden's group has yet to make any hires in South Carolina, a person in the state who is close to the former vice president described the early outreach as "casual."

"Are there casual conversations with some of the people? Of course. Any commitments? Has anyone been hired? Not that I'm aware of," said this person, who has direct knowledge of the matter and declined to be named.

Biden visited the state during the 2018 congressional midterm elections. At the time he said the elections were "a battle for America's soul. I remember when South Carolina wasn't all Republican. People change."

Brandon Upson, campaign manager for one of South Carolina's Democratic gubernatorial nominees, Phil Noble, said Biden's team had been "getting around" in the state. Upson declined to elaborate when asked specifically if he had been approached by Biden's associates.

"I'm not going to speak on undeclared candidates, but I will say that I'm excited to see women and people of color being considered for senior level leadership positions on competitive campaigns," he said.

Biden has been telling some of the party's top donors that he's leaning toward a run but hasn't made a final decision.

A spokesman for Biden declined to comment.

Swalwell, Harris, Gillibrand on the prowl

Another 2020 hopeful that hasn't official declared his candidacy but is looking at making inroads in South Carolina is Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

Mary Geren, a Democrat who recently lost in her own election bid for South Carolina's 3rd congressional district, met with Swalwell to help lead his efforts within the state, if he decides to run, Swalwell campaign consultant Lisa Tucker said.

"We have a lot of respect for Mary Geren; she accepted a job elsewhere. We've made one hire so far in South Carolina and we'll continue to staff up there and elsewhere as the congressman tests the waters," Tucker said.

Swalwell said in a text message that he's "getting close" to deciding whether he will enter the race – and confirmed he has been interviewing potential staffers.

The campaign of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has heard from dozens of free agent political operatives around the state who want to join her team, including alumni from Joe Cunningham's congressional campaign, according to people familiar with the outreach.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has yet to officially announce an office in South Carolina, has also been talking with possible staff hires and gearing up to court voters in the state, according to people familiar with the matter.

"We are in the process of hiring staff in South Carolina," said a Gillibrand aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity

Swalwell, Gillibrand and Harris have all been flocking to there to speak with voters. Sen. Cory Booker, who has also staffed up in the key state, made his first official campaign stop there Sunday, while Harris is making her second trip to the Palmetto State this weekend.

Representatives for Harris' South Carolina office and Gillibrand's exploratory committee declined to comment.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Brandon Upson is the campaign manager for Phil Noble, one of South Carolina's Democratic gubernatorial nominees.