COLUMBIA — Former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges endorsed Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary race Tuesday, further consolidating the former vice president's extensive establishment support in this crucial early-voting state with just a few weeks left.
The decision means Biden now has the backing of the only two living former Democratic governors in South Carolina, Hodges and Dick Riley, who join dozens of the state's other elected officials in endorsing him. Hodges was the last Democrat to be elected governor in South Carolina, serving from 1999 to 2003.
In an interview with The Post and Courier, Hodges said he took his time reaching his decision because he wanted to give all the candidates a chance to prove themselves.
But after watching the race unfold over the past year, Hodges came to the conclusion that Biden would be the party's strongest nominee to beat President Donald Trump in November.
"He is the one who can not only unite the Democrats, independents and Republicans who are tired of Trump, but he is also someone who has the experience to do the job," Hodges said.
Another decisive factor in Hodges' decision was the impact Biden would have on down-ballot races in South Carolina. He particularly pointed to Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham's competitive reelection race in the Lowcountry and the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jaime Harrison and Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham.
"I don't think there's any doubt that of the candidates out there, Biden clearly would be the strongest person at the top of the ticket for the remaining Democratic candidates," Hodges said.
"Not only in South Carolina but in a host of other states, we fought too hard in 2018 to scratch out some pretty significant gains, and I'd hate to see us give all that up by picking the wrong nominee at the top of the ticket," he added.
Hodges gave Biden credit for handling a "talented" field of new candidates while maintaining his status at the top of the pack, especially in South Carolina, where he has consistently led polls from the outset of the race.
The most recent Post and Courier-Change Research poll of likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters showed Biden's lead narrowing but still placed him on top by 5 percentage points over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Tom Steyer.
"He started off as the frontrunner and he has been able to sustain that position as a frontrunner, and I've been impressed with him, with the fact that he's been able to fend off as many challengers as he's faced and answer as many questions as he's answered," Hodges said.
The closing days before Monday night's Iowa caucuses featured many pitches from candidates about why they are the most electable. The more progressive contenders, like Sanders and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have argued their brand of politics will energize more Democrats and expand the party's voter base.
But Hodges likened that claim to George McGovern's campaign in 1972, when the progressive senator defied expectations to capture the Democratic nomination only to lose in a landslide in the general election to incumbent Republican Richard Nixon.
"We can't afford to take a chance on a strategy that's never worked in the past and hope it is successful, particularly when you've got somebody like Trump you're running against," Hodges said. "We just can't afford another four years of this."
Hodges now runs the lobbying arm of law firm McGuire Woods, splitting his time between Columbia and Washington, D.C. His wife, Rachel, who has taken on leadership roles with prominent women's empowerment groups in Columbia, is also endorsing Biden.
The few remaining influential politicians in South Carolina who remain on the sidelines in the presidential primary include both of the state's Democratic congressmen, Cunningham and House Majority Whip. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia.