Clinton’s S.C. ground game strengthened by Black Caucus PAC endorsement

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at her first-in-the-nation presidential primary campaign rally Feb. 9 in Hooksett, N.H.

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton is still waiting to see if South Carolina’s leading African-American lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, offers his coveted endorsement. But her camp will still get a major boost in the Palmetto State over the weekend and into next week, thanks to the Congressional Black Caucus.

The group’s official political action committee formally endorsed Clinton on Thursday morning at a news conference in Washington. The endorsement comes with the maximum campaign contribution of $5,000 and financial commitments to communities across the country working to elect the former Secretary of State. A dozen caucus members will also be in South Carolina in the coming days to stump for Clinton and help her secure inroads with the black voters.

“(South Carolina) is a place where we believe we will be extremely helpful,” said former caucus chairwoman Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, “where we can bring the kind of attention to the background and the body of work of Hillary Clinton unlike anyone else can.”

A major coup for Clinton will be on-the-ground support from U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an icon of the civil rights movement who was nearly beaten to death for marching in support of voting rights in 1965.

“I know the South,” said Lewis. “I was born and reared in rural Alabama. And during the civil rights movement I worked in 11 southern states, from Virginia to Texas. I know South Carolina. I’m going there this weekend. I’m going because I believe, truly, there’s no one else better prepared to be the president of the United States of America than Hillary Clinton. ... I’m going to the churches, I’m going to the streets, I’m gonna knock on doors.”

Lewis and Fudge were among the 22 of 46 caucus members on hand for the PAC’s endorsement announcement. They offered a passionate and forceful defense of their candidate, previewing what South Carolinians can expect to hear in the lead-up to the state’s Feb. 27 Democratic presidential primary.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said Clinton had a record of fighting for issues important to minority communities.

“When you look at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s total body of work, you see her as a young person working with the Children’s Defense Fund. You look at her recognizing that the criminal justice system is rigged from a very early stage in her professional career. You look at her when she was elected to the United States Senate and the legislation she introduced to do a wide array of criminal justice reform, or when she was first lady with the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Those are things that make an enormous difference in minority families and working families.”

Nearly all the speakers drew distinctions between Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

“We need a president who doesn’t simply campaign and just promise wonderful things, things that are politically impossible to achieve,” said caucus Chairman G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C.

U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said when it came to guns, “there is no comparison. Hillary Clinton has been there to deal with the gun violence epidemic and its impact on African-American communities. And Bernie Sanders has not just simply been missing in action, he’s been on the wrong side.”

The rhetoric signals a growing willingness among Congressional Democrats to go after Sanders, the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist enjoying a surge after his New Hampshire primary victory.

And as for Clyburn, caucus PAC chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., made it clear there were no hard feelings about his absence.

“The fact that he is so significant — one of the most significant individuals in South Carolina — then he should stand on his own,” said Meeks.

Emma Dumain is the Post and Courier’s Washington correspondent.