Clyburn’s speech reflects his stature

Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina addresses the Democratic National Convention tonight in Charlotte.

CHARLOTTE — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s biggest star at the Democratic National Convention, took the stage here tonight to help make the case for Barack Obama’s re-election.

Unlike many speakers at these conventions, he talked little about himself.

But other Democrats here were glad to talk about him, a man whose influence in Washington and South Carolina continues to grow.

State Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian recalled Clyburn’s role in April 2007 in introducing him to a young, black senator, Barack Obama. Harpootlian later asked Clyburn frankly whether he believed the country could elect a black man as President of the United States.

“I said, ‘I’m just a white guy on the outside looking in, but do you think white people will vote for a black man?’” Harpootlian said. “And he said, ‘What the hell do you think I am? Vanilla ice cream?’ ”

Though his 6th Congressional District has a black majority, Clyburn has attracted support from whites throughout his career, from his first Statehouse race where a young candidate seeking another Charleston Statehouse seat, Joe Riley, gave him money, to his later introduction to public service under Gov. John West. Republicans did not put up a candidate against him this year.

West called Clyburn shortly after West read how graciously Clyburn reacted after a difficult 1970 House race in Charleston. Clyburn went to bed Election Night after he was told he won by 500 votes, but he awoke to find out that he lost by 500 votes. Many, including Clyburn, suspected fraud, but he couldn’t prove it, so Clyburn simply said he lost because he just didn’t get enough votes.

He recounted the story here to South Carolina college students, adding this moral to the story: “Don’t ever go through life saying everything that’s on your mind.”

Don Fowler of Columbia, former Democratic national chairman, has watched Clyburn’s career, from his early days as an unsuccessful candidate for Secretary of State to his election to Congress and steady rise to House Majority Whip to his current role as Assistant Democratic Leader.

“I think he’s a great man and he’s smart and he’s dedicated — and he works hard,” Fowler said, adding that Clyburn also never has abused his prerogatives, “which some people do when they get into positions of influence.”

Read more later at and in tomorrow’s newspaper.