Elections

Joe Biden enters 2020 race with a full team in South Carolina

Meet the Candidate: Joe Biden

Joe Biden is back on the campaign trail. Here's a quick look at the 2020 presidential contender.
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Joe Biden is back on the campaign trail. Here's a quick look at the 2020 presidential contender.

Joe Biden will hit the ground running in South Carolina: The Democratic candidate for president already has a significant portion of his staff lined up in the critical early primary state.

On Thursday, hours after Biden made his formal announcement to enter the 2020 race, a Biden aide confirmed to McClatchy that the former vice president has made several hires for key staff positions.

Kendall Corley — a veteran S.C. Democratic strategist and expert on black and southern voter outreach — will serve as state director. He was most recently the political director for the 2018 S.C. gubernatorial campaign of Democrat James Smith, a longtime friend and supporter of Biden’s.

Corley has done campaign work for President Barack Obama and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who is considered a coveted endorsement in the South Carolina primary. And in the fall of 2017, Corley was dispatched to Alabama to help Democrat Doug Jones win his special election to the U.S. Senate.

Biden’s deputy state director will be Mariah Hill. She most recently managed the 2018 Congressional campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, the first Democrat to win in South Carolina’s 1st District in nearly 40 years and one of the midterm’s biggest upsets.

Rosalyn Glenn, the S.C. Democratic Party’s 2018 nominee for treasurer, will serve as coalitions director. She is also the president and CEO of her own consulting firm and a leader in the prominent black sorority of Delta Sigma Theta.

Scott Harriford, Cunningham’s field director, will be Biden’s political director. Harriford also was deputy political director for Smith’s gubernatorial campaign.

In a non-South Carolina hire, Paige Hill — previously the communications and policy director for former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s gubernatorial campaign in Tennessee — will be Biden’s S.C. communications director.

Corley was widely viewed as among the last seasoned African American party operatives to be hired by a presidential campaign in South Carolina. Biden’s late entry meant that much of the top local talent had already been snatched up by other Democrats, and there has been a high demand for black senior strategists who can help candidates court the state’s influential, sizable black voter base.

To date, every “top tier” Democratic presidential campaign that has made staff announcements in South Carolina has announced an African American state director. Corley has fielded calls and offers from multiple campaigns for months.

A few weeks ago, as he was still mulling his options, Corley told McClatchy that whatever presidential campaign he ended up working for, he would bring with him a team largely of his own making — people he has observed in the field or worked with directly over the years.

Corley also emphasized that he would put together a staff that was diverse: “Racially diverse, gender diverse, ideology-within-the-Democratic Party diverse, diversity in age,” he said.

Biden has deep roots in the state and close ties with some of South Carolina’s most prominent Democrats, including U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. A two-time presidential contender and longtime U.S. senator from Delaware, he has the distinction of having delivered eulogies for both of the Palmetto State’s long-serving, iconic U.S. senators: Republican Strom Thurmond and, just last week, Democrat Fritz Hollings.

Despite these advantages, Biden is a 76-year-old, straight, white man competing in the most diverse presidential candidate field in history. He’s entering the race months after many of his competitors, several of whom have already visited South Carolina multiple times and collected significant endorsements.

In a race with a record number of women and in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, Biden is also carrying political baggage. There are accusations he was inappropriate with women during campaign events and lingering concerns with how he handled Anita Hill’s testimony during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation proceedings.

Yet on May 4, when Biden comes to South Carolina for the first time as a 2020 candidate, he could benefit from the optics of the diverse team that Corley promised.

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Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she reports on South Carolina politics for The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.

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