A short history of Jim Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry


Republican and Democrat presidential candidates campaign differently in South Carolina.

During the busy period leading up to their respective primaries, you are more likely to run into a Republican candidate doing a meet-and-greet at a popular restaurant along the campaign trail than a Democrat. In part, you can chalk that up to the state’s tradition of voting Republican.

However, there is one place you will find just about every Democrat running for president of the United States of America: Jim Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, was kind enough to give us a brief history of the event.

When did the Fish Fry begin? I can’t remember the exact year. It was after my 1986 secretary of state campaign. The fish fry was well established by the 1992 congressional campaign.

It started out as a thank you to campaign workers at the state convention, for those folks who couldn’t afford to pay for the $100-a-plate Jefferson-Jackson Dinner (The Jefferson-Jackson Dinner is the Democratic Party’s main fund-raising event, named for Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, founders of the Democratic Party).

We start the fish fry about 90 minutes into the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, at 8 p.m., so that folks can go the dinner and, then, the fish fry.

Has the fish fry menu (consisting of white bread, whiting filet, hot sauce and yellow mustard) changed over the years? No. People have started bringing their own breads (laugh).

Is there one memorable moment that sticks out in your mind? Well, getting candidates to the fish fry on time from the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner is always a challenge. During the 2007 presidential campaign, we had 4,000-5,000 folks attend the fish fry. That was the year that we (Democrats) had nine candidates in the field, and it was an energizing time.

The presidential candidates take the stage as a group, so Hillary (Clinton) and (Barack) Obama were up there, and I introduce the group as one of them being the next president of the United States. Unbeknownst to me, (Seneca native and former U.S. Sen.) John Edwards (D-N.C.) is not on stage.

A reporter asked me afterward — something along the lines of — “Did you realize that Edwards was not on stage and did his absence mean that you are eliminating him from consideration for president?”

Well, it seems that one of Edwards’ campaign staff told John Edwards not to appear on the stage with the other candidates.

My wife has never forgiven (Edwards) for that.

How has the event itself changed? I thought it would be a one-time thing. Then people (candidates) started coming and asking about the thing, so it became a regular event. We held it in the parking lot of my congressional campaign office, then eventually moved it to the Municipal Parking Garage on Gervais Street. We went to the State Farmers Market a couple of times, when it was next to the stadium, but the uniqueness of the parking garage brought it back there.

It really took off when presidential candidates started showing up. One day, I saw it in print somewhere: “Jim Clyburn’s World Famous Fish Fry.” The name just appeared and we ran with it.

The crowds have gotten bigger. This year, the event moved to Charleston, the night before the candidates’ debate, on Feb. 16. The Secret Service told me that 1,826 people passed through the electronic detectors on the gates. That’s not including the folks, like me, that went around the gates. I think the count that night was 2,000-3,000 folks.

Overall, the fish fry is a place for folks to meet and interact with each other. Workers and delegates from Oconee County can meet workers from Horry County, eat fish, enjoy some music and build camaraderie without having to spend a lot of money to listen to speeches and eat cold chicken.

Now, we get folks from Charlotte, Augusta and Atlanta, so maybe it’s not quite “world famous,” but it is at least becoming national.

It’s all about appreciation.

Popular with voters

The top S.C. restaurants and bars based on Facebook members who like or follow Democratic or Republican candidates:

Top restaurants and cafes among S.C. Democrats:

1. Butcher & Bee (Charleston): http://www.facebook.com/184630101612582

2. Drip Coffee (Columbia): http://www.facebook.com/346824818719691

3. 2 Fat 2 Fly (Columbia): http://www.facebook.com/10850209026

4. Roti Rolls (Charleston): http://www.facebook.com/705168476203273

5. The Kraken Gastropub (Columbia): http://www.facebook.com/245570735570106

Top restaurants and cafes among S.C. Republicans:

1. Skins Hot Dogs (Anderson): http://www.facebook.com/148360678536898

2. Shealy’s Bar-B-Que (Batesburg-Leesville): http://www.facebook.com/141935789073

3. The Beacon Drive-in (Spartanburg): http://www.facebook.com/48531570237

4. FATZ (Greenville): http://www.facebook.com/123257821294

5. Rush’s Fabulous Food ... Fast! (Columbia): http://www.facebook.com/285604313642