Winthrop University hosts democratic debate, republican town hall

Winthrop University hosts democratic debate, republican town hall

ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) - Presidential candidates from both the republican and democratic party are making stops at Winthrop University Friday.

The campus has been thrust into the political spotlight as it hosts a forum for democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O Malley. All week preparations have been underway to prepare for the national attention.

Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul kicked things off Friday with a town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Senator Tim Scott. Congressmen Trey Gowdy and Mick Mulvaney were also on hand.

Paul took questions from the audience, made up of more than 100 or so during the noon gathering. The Kentucky senator told the crowd he believes debt is the biggest issue facing our country.

Audience members asked questions about enforcing immigration, tax reforms, and changes to the criminal justice system.

"I am [an] advocate for freedom, and I think disproportionately our drug laws have put poor people in jail, primarily minorities, and I do want to try to fix that, so there is some overlap with Bernie on those issues," Paul said.

Several other political events are being held on campus Friday.

At the forum, Hillary Clinton will look to continue her roll in South Carolina. A recent Winthrop Poll found that more than 70% of South Carolina's registered democrat voters support her candidacy.

In the same poll, Bernie Sanders was significantly behind Clinton's numbers.

O'Malley's support in the state was even lower, according to the poll.

Scott Huffmon with the Winthrop Poll said South Carolina is important for the candidates as they try to grab votes from African Americans.

"Up to about 56% of the democratic presidential primary in south Carolina is non-white, now that's not true in Iowa, that's not true in New Hampshire, so we're the first real test for that core constituency for the democrats," Huffmon said.

Results from the Winthrop Poll were published Wednesday.

Huffmon said he expects candidates to be able to use results to see where they stand with voters Friday.

"We hope to be able to provide a baseline for the candidates, so that they come in knowing - here's where I stand with South Carolina democratic voters today. How's my performance tonight going to affect that?" Huffmon said.

The democratic debate will begin at 8 p.m. at Byrnes Auditorium.

WBTV will have wrap-up coverage from the forum at 11 p.m.

Copyright 2015 WBTV. All rights reserved.