Hillary Clinton won the backing Friday of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s most prominent elected Democrat.
“My heart has been with Hillary Clinton since Day 1,” Clyburn said, announcing his endorsement at Allen University, a historically black college in Columbia. “I want to do everything I can to help Hillary Clinton crack the ultimate glass ceiling.”
The 12-term congressman, South Carolina’s lone Democrat in Congress, said he has had a chance to work "up close and personal" with both Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Both, Clyburn added, have been “pleasant and enjoyable.”
But “the future of the Democratic Party and the United States of America will be best served with the experience and know-how of Hillary Clinton” as the next president, he said.
Clyburn is one of 712 superdelegates in the Democratic nominating contest. Free to vote for the candidate of their choice, superdelegates make up about 30 percent of the 2,382 delegates needed to claim the party’s nomination.
With Clyburn’s backing, Clinton has gained the support of 89 “super” delegates since the New Hampshire primary, bringing her total to 483, compared to Sanders’ 55, the Associated Press reported.
Superdelegate support has given Clinton a sizable advantage over Sanders in the race, despite the candidates’ near tie in Iowa and Sanders’ landslide win in New Hampshire.
Clyburn had said he would remain neutral in race, but he changed his mind after he was encouraged by family, friends and constituents to weigh in.
Waiting until Friday also was important, he said. Clyburn said he wanted to protect the state from losing its status as the first-in-the-South Democratic primary state.
“I was told by many of the candidates that if I got overly involved, they would stay away from the state. That's why I waited until now. I did not want to get out here too early and have candidates using my involvement as an excuse not to engage in South Carolina.”
Clinton’s campaign is hoping for a boost ahead of the state’s Feb. 27 primary, where African-American voters are expected to cast more than half the ballots.
The Republican National Committee said the endorsement was an effort to “circle the wagons” as Clinton’s campaign is dogged by probes into her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
On Saturday, Clinton and Sanders face off in what has become a hotly contested race in Nevada, where Clinton’s lead has narrowed.
Of the Nevada race, Clyburn said he has campaigned for friends there, “some of whom urged me to come forward now expressing that it may help them in Nevada – I certainly hope so,” he said.
Clyburn’s endorsement, which The State reported Thursday, also offers a bookend to an incident between Clyburn and former President Bill Clinton in the 2008 campaign, when the former president called Clyburn, upset after his wife lost the state primary.
Clyburn said Friday that he and Bill Clinton have interacted many times since then, and “spouses support their spouses .... so I hold no ill will at all about Bill Clinton being active on behalf of his wife. That is the way it should be.”