CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday secured the endorsement of James Clyburn, an influential black congressman from the early-voting state of South Carolina, which could prove pivotal to his White House bid.
Biden, once the presidential front-runner nationally, was among the Democratic White House contenders campaigning in South Carolina ahead of Saturday’s primary.
Clyburn’s endorsement carries weight in a state where black voters make up about 60% of the Democratic electorate. Biden is counting on his traditional strong support from black voters there after a fourth-place finish in Iowa, a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire and securing second in Nevada.
“I’m here, heart and soul, with everything I’ve got to earn the support of the people of South Carolina. Nothing is expected or guaranteed,” Biden said at the news conference where Clyburn announced his endorsement.
Clyburn, the highest-ranking black lawmaker in Congress, said of Biden he could “think of no one with the type of integrity, no one more committed to the fundamental principles to make this country what it is than my good friend.”
Most of the Democratic presidential candidates kicked off Wednesday with speeches at a breakfast hosted by the National Action Network, founded by civil rights leader Al Sharpton. The event focused on mobilizing black churches to get out the vote.
The candidates acknowledged the sharp jabs they threw at each other hours earlier – when they repeatedly attacked front-runner Bernie Sanders as a risky choice to lead the party in November – but pledged to eventually unify behind one candidate.
Opinion polls have shown Sanders cutting into Biden’s lead with black voters, and the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Sanders surpassing Biden.
In Tuesday’s debate, candidates repeatedly shouted over one another and plowed past their time limits, arguing that nominating Sanders, a self-avowed democratic socialist, would cost Democrats the White House and control of Congress.
Pete Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, criticized Sanders for the changing estimates on the costs of his proposals such as government-run healthcare.
“I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said.
Sharpton, in introducing Sanders at the breakfast, urged the crowd not to get caught up in the branding of the senator as a socialist, noting that it has been used in the past to discredit leaders of movements.
“Socialism, capitalism, it all has not worked out for black folks,” Sharpton said. “If socialism is on your mind, read about what they said about Martin Luther King Jr. and others.”
Sanders has taken command of the Democratic race after his resounding win last week in Nevada. Tuesday’s debate was the last chance for his opponents to stop his momentum before the South Carolina primary and next week’s 14 vital Super Tuesday contests.
Sanders held his ground on Tuesday, defending healthcare as a human right and saying his economic and social justice agenda, including his Medicare for All plan to replace private health insurance, is supported by the American people.
Underscoring the high stakes, even Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts and a progressive ally of Sanders, took a swing at her old friend, saying she was more likely to get a “progressive agenda enacted.”
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