Clyburn takes victory lap after Biden wins big on Super Tuesday
House Majority Whip James Clyburn’s (D-S.C.) endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden marked a turning point in his presidential bid, leading to massive wins in South Carolina on Saturday and across the South on Super Tuesday.
Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American official in Congress, successfully rallied black voters in the Palmetto State and beyond to back Biden, citing his electability and impact on down-ballot races.
The endorsement was credited for helping to propel the former vice president to victories in a majority of the states to vote on Super Tuesday, providing Biden with an edge in the delegate count over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“My aim was not just to win South Carolina, but to win it big enough so as to create a surge for Joe Biden,” Clyburn told The Hill. “Someone asked me, ‘Are you trying to stop Bernie Sanders?’ No, I wasn’t trying to stop him. I’m trying to create a surge for Joe Biden.”
Clyburn was lauded as a hero by a number of Democratic television pundits on Tuesday evening, even as he himself has admitted that he did not predict the breadth of Biden’s wins.
Longtime operative James Carville saluted the congressman on MSNBC on Tuesday, saying he “saved the Democratic Party” with his endorsement of Biden.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who met with Biden on Tuesday in Los Angeles but has not endorsed a candidate yet, credited Clyburn with helping to turn things around for Biden.
“The momentum that Biden got out of South Carolina, the momentum he got from that incredible endorsement by Mr. Clyburn, definitely seems like it put the momentum his way,” Bass told The Hill on Wednesday.
“Clearly, what I heard was 47 percent of the voters in South Carolina in exit polls said they were waiting for him to know what to do,” she said.
After a decisive victory in South Carolina, Biden won 10 of 14 states as of Wednesday afternoon, sweeping the South after early victories in North Carolina and Virginia and eventually winning Texas. He also unexpectedly prevailed in Minnesota and Massachusetts, despite not visiting the two states that Sanders had sought to put into play with recent rallies.
However, Sanders was projected to win California, although the final count was yet to be determined, and won in Colorado, Utah and his home state of Vermont.
Biden’s wins in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday showcased the breadth of his support among African Americans, who are seen as the backbone of the Democratic Party.
NBC News exit polls from Wednesday morning showed Biden carrying the support from roughly 70 percent of black voters in Alabama and Virginia. Biden also carried support from over half of the demographic in Tennessee and North Carolina.
“On the day after the Saturday vote, I went to North Carolina,” Clyburn told The Hill. “I heard from people in Goldsboro, people in Fayetteville [who said], your endorsement was exactly what we were waiting for.”
“I think that we see that in the results. Joe Biden was trailing in the polls in both of those states, and despite the fact that a lot of people had already voted, we’re seeing the results paying off handsomely in those two states,” he continued. “We are going to work as hard as we possibly can to replicate that in Georgia and in Florida.”
Biden and Clyburn have a longstanding relationship, and the 14-term congressman said he had known for months he would endorse former President Obama’s No. 2.
Clyburn told The Hill he started talking with a number of black lawmakers, including Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), around Christmastime about what they needed to do to help Biden get the nomination.
“All of us felt he was our best hope not just to win the presidency but our best hope to maintain our majority in the House of Representatives, and to split the Senate,” Clyburn said.
However, Clyburn did not think Biden’s campaign was perfect from the start. Before his South Carolina victory, Biden had performed poorly, with Sanders claiming wins in New Hampshire and Nevada and a virtual tie in Iowa.
Clyburn said he had expressed concerns to Biden about the former vice president’s messaging to voters, particularly in South Carolina.
“He was too cautious, and I said to him, ‘You can’t just lay out your platform. People want to feel you, not just hear you, they’ve got to feel you,’ ” Clyburn said. “I said, I know you. You’ve got the passion. Everyone knows you’ve got the compassion but you’ve got to express it in such a way that people feel it.”
Super Tuesday results have cast doubt on Sanders’s claims of building a broad coalition, with his support mainly coming from younger voters, Latinos and progressives.
The impact South Carolina had on Biden’s fortunes is also expected to raise calls to update the primary calendar, which currently kicks off in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with majority-white population.
Clyburn cited the impact his home state has had in previous nomination races.
“When Barack Obama came to South Carolina, he had just been defeated in New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton had just beaten his socks off,” Clyburn said. “And it’s not just on our side of the aisle. John McCain came to South Carolina having won New Hampshire, and George W. Bush beat him in South Carolina and went on to win the presidency.”
When asked what the chances of moving the Palmetto State up in the primary calendar were, Clyburn said “very great.”
Scott Wong contributed.