Clyburn endorses Clinton for president

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, after pledging to remain neutral. (File AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s sole Democratic congressman, Jim Clyburn, announced Friday his support for Hillary Clinton, publicly ending any leftover bitterness from his decision to remain neutral in 2008’s presidential race.

Clyburn, the state’s most influential black lawmaker, had been hinting for a week that he would endorse Clinton, after initially saying he would remain neutral.

He made his announcement at Allen University, a private, historically black university.

“My heart has always been with Hillary Clinton, but my head had me in a neutral corner,” Clyburn said. “I have decided to terminate my neutrality and get engaged. I believe that the future of the Democratic Party and the United States of America will be best served with the experiences and know-how of Hillary Clinton as our 45th president.”

Clinton counts among her backers a sizable list of South Carolina’s state lawmakers, with more than 25 of them having announced their support, including House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford. But Clyburn, Congress’ third-ranking Democrat, is the highest-ranking South Carolina Democratic official to side with Clinton.

She welcomed the endorsement in a written statement, calling Clyburn a “lifelong progressive champion” on several issues.

“The Congressman is committed to making real change for working people in South Carolina and across the country — and is as creative a legislator as he is tenacious,” Clinton said. “Congressman Clyburn knows we need to break down every barrier holding Americans back — because America can’t live up to its full potential until we make sure every American has a chance to live up to theirs.”

His endorsement could provide a boost to Clinton and ensure that she keeps her lead here. Though her advantage has dropped in varying polls, she still leads Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by 19 percent.

Clyburn’s endorsement was initially unexpected. In 2008, he promised he would stay away from endorsing any of the candidates in the race, including then-Sen. Barack Obama. But this time, he said his friends encouraged him to endorse a candidate.

Clyburn said he waited until Friday to announce his support for Clinton to prevent any of the candidates from using his endorsement as an excuse to skip campaigning in South Carolina.

And it was yet another sign that his past tensions with the Clintons are gone. Before the 2008 primary, Clyburn said he received an angry, 2 a.m., phone call from Bill Clinton. “If you bastards want a fight, you damn well will get one,” Clinton told Clyburn, according to the congressman’s memoir.

On Friday, Clyburn said he held no ill will toward President Clinton for trying to help his wife. And he encouraged others, who harbored any type of negative feelings toward the Clintons over the incident, to do the same.

“I took offense to some things,” Clyburn said. “I didn’t ask anyone to join me in that.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-577-7111.