NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the highest-ranking black member of Congress and the kingmaker of South Carolina’s Democratic political orbit, on Wednesday endorsed Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. The backing could provide a much-needed boost for the former vice president heading into South Carolina’s primary.
Clyburn said he was calling on the people of South Carolina to “stand with” Biden.
“I know Joe Biden. I know his character, his heart, and his record,” Clyburn tweeted. “Joe Biden has stood for the hard-working people of South Carolina.”
It had long been expected that Clyburn, the House majority whip, would support Biden. The men were in Congress together for more than a decade, with Clyburn also working closely with the Obama administration in his House leadership roles. Biden was among the presidential hopefuls and other political notables who attended two days of funeral and homegoing services last year for Clyburn’s wife, Emily.
The support could help Biden avoid limping across the finish line in Saturday’s balloting in South Carolina, where he has long led in polling, particularly among the black voters, who comprise most of the Democratic electorate. But that lead has tightened in recent months, in part because of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ momentum after success in other early state contests. Another factor is the focus of candidates including California billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent millions of dollars on ads in the state and worked to build relationships with black voters.
Before Clyburn announced his endorsement, Biden lauded the South Carolinian during remarks at a ministers’ breakfast hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, where several other Democratic candidates also spoke.
Biden used two biblical references to praise Clyburn, citing the gospel of Matthew’s call to care for the “least of these, my brethren,” and recalling the New Testament book of James, which he said defines faith with “not your words but your deeds.”
“This is a man who has a lot of reason, like a lot of you in this room, to be angry and not generous,” Biden said of Clyburn. Instead, “he reaches out to everybody.”
Following poor finishes in Iowa and in New Hampshire, Biden notched a second-place finish in the Nevada caucuses, a status he said positioned him to do well in South Carolina, a state that can be a bellwether for other Southern states and has been referred to as Biden’s “firewall” of support.
Earlier this month, Clyburn gave some insight into his thinking when he said that he was watching efforts by several campaigns aiming to cut into Biden’s support in South Carolina. Clyburn noted that Steyer, in particular, is doing “an incredible job.”
Clyburn also said former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg “is doing very good.” Clyburn has previously said Buttigieg may struggle among older black voters because he is gay. Clyburn’s grandson is working for Buttigieg’s South Carolina campaign.
Asked directly if South Carolina is Biden’s “firewall,” where success or failure could make or break his campaign in the states that follow, Clyburn said, “Well, I don’t know. We will see.”
Clyburn hosted Biden and nearly two dozen other Democratic hopefuls last summer at his fish fry, which began in 1992 in a parking deck near the South Carolina Statehouse as a way to thank volunteers who helped him secure his first congressional victory. Through the years, the fish fry has blossomed into a showpiece event for Democratic politicians in the state and as a must-stop event for the party’s presidential contenders aiming to build support in the state.