Joe Biden's handling of Anita Hill's testimony in 1991 may not affect his presidential campaign in South Carolina or elsewhere.

Even Hill says she may vote for him.

In an interview Thursday night on "NBC Nightly News," Hill was asked if she could see herself voting for Biden in 2020 if he's the Democratic nominee against President Donald Trump.

"Of course I could," Hill told reporter Andrea Mitchell.

Hill's comments come as Biden has struggled to put this part of his decades-spanning political past behind him. And her willingness to let the past stay in the past bodes well for Biden, giving him an even safer link to South Carolina's most valuable demographic in the upcoming Democratic presidential primary: black women.

"This could be a sentiment of a lot of black women, which is a key Democratic voting bloc, especially in South Carolina," said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist who advised Hillary Clinton's 2016 and 2008 presidential campaigns in the state.

"But we just don't know the velocity or magnitude of what this could grow into," he added.

Hill's admission of potential support for Biden in 2020 comes some 28 years after Hill was thrust into the national spotlight when she came forward to testify about alleged sexual harassment involving then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Critics bristled at the way Biden, who in 1991 was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, treated Hill in what many saw as a demeaning fashion.

That came as she tried to make her case in front an all-white, all-male panel during the Thomas confirmation.

Thomas was ultimately confirmed to the bench while Hill became a public face of sexual harassment, though many point to the personal toll it cost her in coming forward.

Drucilla Barker, professor of anthropology and women's and gender studies at the University of South Carolina, still remembers watching Hill's testimony. She has since met Hill personally a few times.

"When she takes a position, she sticks to it," Barker said. 

Prior to the interview being released Thursday, Barker said she was unsure of how much weight Hill's interview would carry even in the African American community, partially because so much time has passed since then.

"To college-educated African American women, she symbolizes a successful black woman who has made a very good life for herself and who stood up for herself," Barker said. "For less educated women, though, I doubt some of them even know who she is."

The continuation of the Hill-Biden saga this political season started early.

Weeks before announcing his 2020 presidential bid, Biden tried to smooth over his relationship with Hill — a figure from his past he knew he would have to address in his White House run.

His campaign said he called Hill to express his "regret for what she endured" in 1991 when she was grilled relentlessly by the panel of senators.

Hill did not accept it. In an April 24 interview, she told The New York Times it was not an apology.

"I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, 'I'm sorry for what happened to you,'" Hill told the newspaper. "I will be satisfied when I know that there is real change and real accountability and real purpose."

Days later, Biden tried again. "I apologize for it," he said during an interview on "Good Morning America."

Hill's Thursday comments were a step closer to her at least being receptive to the Democratic front-runner.

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.


"I'm not even sure anything I've said has actually hurt Joe Biden's campaign," Hill said Thursday, citing polls that show the former vice president consistently leading among the field of 20-plus Democratic candidates.

Charleston Branch NAACP President Dot Scott said Hill was mistreated in 1991 but questioned if Biden was solely to blame.

She also questioned the intent of the interview now — so long after Hill's famous testimony.

"I have no idea what she is going to say, but I can tell you it wouldn't change my mind one iota," Scott said.

"Do I think she was wronged? Yes. But I think this interview is a political move by folks who have a vested interest in what would net them negative publicity against Senator and Vice President Biden," Scott said.

Ahead of the interview, the communications director for Biden's South Carolina campaign would not confirm whether there were plans to watch the broadcast.

Seawright said Hill's interview isn't just about Biden, though.

"Any and every campaign should be watching this interview because, in a way, it impacts every single campaign," he said.

He also said it could be a turning point for Biden and black women moving forward at a time when not only are more women speaking out about their personal experiences with sexual harassment and assault in the #MeToo era, Democrats have the largest and most diverse slate of presidential candidates in history.

"Biden is obviously the front-runner and if there's a way to use this to define him or highlight the differences, then this could be the thing," Seawright added.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.

We're improving out commenting experience.

We’ve temporarily removed comments from articles while we work on a new and better commenting experience. In the meantime, subscribers are encouraged to join the conversation at our Post and Courier Subscribers group on Facebook.