Clyburn’s help is crucial, given his stature in the state. The power of Clyburn’s endorsement isn’t lost on the local elected officials in his state, who have said that primary voters — two-thirds of the party’s electorate is African American — pay close attention to his lead.
Biden has publicly acknowledged South Carolina is a must-win state for him. Prevailing there would back up his oft-repeated message that he has strong support among African Americans, a base of the Democratic Party that swings elections, particularly in the Southeast.
A big South Carolina win, Biden’s campaign hopes, would provide a springboard into the run of states with influential black electorates, starting with Super Tuesday three days after the Palmetto State’s Feb. 29 primary.
“Nothing is certain until the big man says yes,” said another Biden advisor with knowledge of the discussions. “Clyburn is a kingmaker and he’s going to do this his way.”
The conversations with Clyburn centered on his ability to consolidate the African American electorate behind Biden, especially at a time when Sanders was closing the gap with black voters and Tom Steyer was already eating into Biden’s black support. The discussions also raised fears about Sanders’ influence on down ballot races, something Clyburn discussed in cable TV interviews Sunday morning.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Biden’s campaign co-chair, said he’s optimistic but not certain that Clyburn will endorse the former vice president.
“Congressman Clyburn is my mentor and one of my closest friends,” Richmond said in a statement. “He has not indicated to me who he is going to endorse. I hope it’s Joe Biden and know they have a relationship. He has said to me the future of the country is at stake, and if we lose to Donald Trump, it would be devastating for generations of African-Americans to come. And I know that’s what he’s thinking about when making this important decision.”
In January, Clyburn made a sudden stop at a Biden surrogate event in Columbia, South Carolina, swinging by his local barbershop after hours as the campaign held a conversation with black men in the community.
“We have to think of this election in more than presidential terms,” Clyburn said to more than a dozen black men at Toliver’s Mane Event barbershop, which Clyburn frequents. “Because when you go to the polls in November … my name is going to be on the ballot. So when you tell me, you got such a big problem with who the Democratic nominee is for president that you aren’t going to vote that means you ain’t voting for me — that’s what that means.”