Beto O'Rourke Thomas McElveen

State Sen. Thomas McElveen introduced 2020 presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke at a campaign event in Sumter on Saturday, June 15, 2019. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — A well-regarded rising Democrat in the South Carolina state Senate endorsed Beto O'Rourke in the party's 2020 presidential primary race Thursday, praising the former Texas congressman for "working to find common ground in Congress and fighting to protect our veterans."

The decision from state Sen. Thomas McElveen comes just a few days after O'Rourke visited his hometown of Sumter, speaking to about a hundred local Democrats and veterans there as he traveled across the early-voting primary state.

After meeting O'Rourke, McElveen said he has no doubt he's "the type of leader our country needs."

The endorsement comes as one of the party's older popular figures, former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, endorsed his long-time friend former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, as well.

"We’ve got to move away from this vitriolic political climate, which makes it more important now than ever that we nominate someone who’s focused on the things that bring Americans together rather than the issues that divide us," McElveen said.

As he introduced O'Rourke in Sumter, McElveen said he had been impressed watching from afar as O'Rourke campaigned in the Texas U.S. Senate race last year, when he narrowly lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. O'Rourke often points out that he visited all 254 Texas counties during that campaign, including historically conservative ones.

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McElveen, who was first elected in 2012, hails from one of the state's few competitive districts that has typically voted for Republicans in presidential races. He commended O'Rourke for not shying away from people of all political beliefs, "even when they may not agree with him."

McElveen is the second South Carolina lawmaker to endorse O'Rourke. State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-North Charleston, announced his decision to back him in April when he campaigned in Ladson.

While several House members have thrown their support behind various candidates, most of the state's 19 Senate Democrats have remained on the sidelines in the early stages of the race.

O'Rourke is set to return to South Carolina on Friday, along with much of the rest of the Democratic primary field, for the state Democratic Party convention and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn's Fish Fry. It will be his fourth visit to the state since launching his campaign in March.

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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