Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said Tuesday he not only endorses Democrat James Smith for governor, he believes he can win it all.

Appearing alongside Smith on the porch of a home overlooking the Charleston Battery, Riley said the veteran state lawmaker from Columbia embodies patriotism and puts people above politics.

"He sees government not as a partisan exercise, but rather a wonderful exercise of freedom to try to achieve the best results for all citizens — Republicans, Democrats, independents," Riley said. 

Riley, who served as mayor for 40 years, is one of South Carolina's leading Democratic figures in this majority red state. He said he knew Smith as a young man and has been continuously impressed by his ability to serve all parts of the Palmetto State.

When Smith ran for the state Legislature, Riley said he supported him. So when Riley learned Smith was running for governor, Riley called him and offered his backing.

"I think he can win. I think he will win," Riley told The Post and Courier after the event. Riley had an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1994.

Smith is one of two Democrats vying for the 2018 party nomination. Also in the mix is Charleston businessman Phil Noble.

Smith welcomed Riley's support, saying the endorsement meant a lot to him both as a candidate and as a person.

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"He is and was the example of what right looks like, and is somebody I have tried to emulate through my entire public service at the Statehouse," Smith said. "I do often think, 'What would Joe do?' when an issue comes up."

Smith in recent weeks has announced several dozen endorsements of ranking party members as he attempts to corner attention early in the race. The primary is in June but the hunt for campaign cash is currently in full swing.

"I don’t think endorsements are what win elections but I am very encouraged by the support we are getting,” Smith said.  "And we’ve got more endorsements coming, bipartisan ones, too."

Noble said the latest endorsement does not worry him.

"If he wants to represent traditional politics, that’s fine. I represent reform," Noble said.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.