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Cory Booker makes 2 key 2020 campaign hires in South Carolina

Cory Booker at King Day (copy)

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey marches to the Statehouse in Columbia on Monday, Jan. 21, for the annual King Day at the Dome honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Booker has hired two top Democratic operatives in South Carolina for his campaign. File/Seanna Adcox/Staff

COLUMBIA — Three days after launching his 2020 presidential bid, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker has picked up two of the most coveted Democratic operatives in South Carolina for his campaign in the crucial early primary state.

Christale Spain will serve as Booker's South Carolina state director, the campaign announced Monday morning, and Clay Middleton will serve as a senior political adviser.

The hires mean Booker, D-N.J., now has top 2016 South Carolina staffers from both the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns on his 2020 team. Middleton was Clinton's South Carolina state director and Spain worked as political outreach director in the state for Sanders.

Both Spain and Middleton have also worked for South Carolina's most influential Democratic politician, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia. 

A former executive director of the S.C. Democratic Party, Spain is also the founding chairwoman of the state party's Black Women's caucus. Middleton previously worked as S.C. political director for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign during the general election and as regional political director in Florida for Clinton in 2016.

Booker is set to return to South Carolina on Feb. 10 and has already placed an early emphasis on the state, which has the party's first primary with a substantial bloc of African-American voters.

In his announcement video on Friday, Booker featured several clips from his appearance at King Day at the Dome, an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally outside the Statehouse in Columbia.

The crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates has been flooding the limited field of experienced South Carolina operatives with calls in recent weeks, as they race to scoop up the state's top talent ahead of what is expected to be a hyper-competitive primary.

Multiple candidates had reached out to both Middleton and Spain. But Middleton told The Post and Courier he particularly appreciated Booker's positive approach and executive experience as the former mayor of Newark, N.J.

"I think his message and his vision is what's needed at this time coming after Trump," Middleton said. "It's no secret that South Carolina is important, and I think the senator is being very aggressive strategically in South Carolina, so there's some good things ahead."

Other candidates have also begun building their 2020 campaign teams in the state. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., recently hired Jerusalem Demsas, former spokeswoman for Ben Jealous' gubernatorial campaign in Maryland, as her S.C. communications director.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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