Hillary Clinton was a no-show at the annual South Carolina Democratic convention over the weekend, sending instead a video message and an army of staffers to recruit volunteers to help her election efforts down the line.

In her videotaped remarks, Clinton repeated her promise to be a “champion” for the middle class, but she didn’t get into the kind of policy details that tend to excite party loyalists.

In her absence, potential Democratic challengers played to the crowd -- including former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb. 

These candidates appeal to Democratic activists for their "fire in the belly." Yet even liberals like Allan Jenkins who are looking for more of that progressive passion from Clinton — the only major declared Democratic candidate so far — say they are inclined to support her in the 2016 race.

"Because I think she's electable," Jenkins, a delegate at the South Carolina Democratic Party convention Saturday, said.

"I love fire in the belly," said Jenkins, who owns a Greenville advertising agency. "We heard that today" from O'Malley and Sanders, who were "delivering the Democratic messages in a forceful way."

O'Malley on Saturday took advantage of Clinton's absence to detail his liberal record as Maryland governor — increasing education spending and promoting gay rights, among other priorities. He trashed the "failed trickle-down economic theory" and called for tougher banking regulations, friendlier student loan policies, universal pre-kindergarten and an expansion of Social Security benefits.

Sanders blasted the increased concentration of wealth in America and blamed a "billionaire class" that he said has taken over politics. He called for universal health care, a massive infrastructure jobs and building program and a more progressive tax structure.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's most high-profile Democrat, said Clinton, even as the "overwhelming favorite," must establish a connection that goes beyond "personality."

"She's got them on personality," he said of the base. "But they're with Bernie on the issues. The rest of the candidates seem somewhere in between on that spectrum. So that's her challenge."

Vice President Joe Biden also missed the event. Instead, Will Pierce, a 26-year-old Biden supporter, was there hyping  the “Draft Biden” initiative which is financed in part from the sale of “I’m Ridin’ With Biden” bumper stickers.  

The Associated Press contributed to this report.