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U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaking at the Charleston Black Expo Economic Empowerment Summit on March 9, 2019. Bakari Sellers endorsed Harris in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race Monday. File/Andrew Whitaker/Staff

COLUMBIA — Bakari Sellers announced Monday he is backing U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris in the 2020 presidential race, giving the California Democrat one of the most prominent endorsements yet in the critical early primary state of South Carolina.

A former state lawmaker-turned-CNN political commentator, Sellers said the Palmetto State "deserves a leader that is attuned to the needs of all communities, particularly rural communities like my hometown of Denmark.”

He praised Harris for proposing a federal teacher pay increase, focusing on problems like rising maternal mortality rates and contaminated water, and supporting historically black colleges and universities.

"These issues hit home for me, and Kamala has repeatedly offered clear solutions for each one, proving there is no problem or person too small to be heard," Sellers said. "Kamala has dedicated her life to fighting for everyday Americans, and I believe she will do the same for working-class families in South Carolina."

Harris is set to return to South Carolina this weekend for her fourth visit to the state as a presidential candidate, with events scheduled at Winthrop University on Friday night and in Holly Hill and Orangeburg on Saturday afternoon. Sellers will stump with Harris at South Carolina State University, her campaign said.

Harris said she was proud to earn support from Sellers, who has experience running statewide as the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee in 2014 and is preparing to run for office again after the eventual retirement of longtime U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia.

"As a leader, activist, and elected official in South Carolina, he has fought for years to make progress from the grassroots to the state house," Harris said of Sellers in a statement. "As I campaign in every corner of this state, I will continue to speak to the concerns of students, teachers, seniors and working families."

Sellers' endorsement adds to a slate of S.C. backers that Harris picked up last month, including three current state lawmakers, the Berkeley County Democratic Party chairwoman and a former gubernatorial candidate. 

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Only a select few other candidates in the crowded Democratic primary field have drawn endorsements from South Carolina in the early months of the race.

State Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, is backing U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. State Rep. Terry Alexander, D-Florence, re-upped his 2016 endorsement for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

And most recently, state Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-North Charleston, announced this past weekend that he is endorsing former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke during a campaign stop in Ladson.

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.