House Majority Whip James Clyburn has had many productive conversations with Sen. Bernie Sanders during their shared years in Congress. But when it came to seeking the influential South Carolinian's endorsement, the Vermont senator didn’t make a concerted effort.
“No, not really,” Clyburn told The Daily Beast in an interview when asked if Sanders or his campaign staff did anything specific to court him ahead of the influential Feb. 29 primary.
“I had a lot of conversations with almost every one of the candidates,” he said, referencing nearly two dozen candidates, including Sanders, who attended his “World Famous Fish Fry” in Columbia in June.
But Clyburn acknowledged the outreach didn’t go much beyond that.
“I don’t need to be courted,” he said.
The congressman wields tremendous influence in South Carolina, the first of the four early voting states with a large African American population. Elected in the early '90s, he’s been a powerful force in southern politics for decades, with Democrats in the state broadly acknowledging that his backing is one of the most coveted election gets.
Clyburn officially threw his weight behind Biden just before primary day, giving the former vice president a much needed boost after disappointing finishes in the first few contests. Exit polls conducted by Edison Research found that 61 percent of Democratic voters said his endorsement was an important factor in their voting choice.
Sanders’ campaign had attempted to gain ground in South Carolina after being wiped out by Hillary Clinton there in 2016. But after finishing second place and 28 points behind Biden, Sanders criticized “establishment” politics that he said were unfavorable to his campaign.
“Now in case you haven’t noticed, the political and economic establishment of this country, they’re getting very nervous about our campaign,” Sanders said at a rally in Virginia following the South Carolina primary. One of Sanders’ top surrogates, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, added on Monday that “South Carolina is not representative of the United States.”
“I find it very interesting that someone is referring to African American voters in South Carolina as the establishment,” Clyburn said. “I don’t understand how that vote can be dismissed.”