Politics & Government

Here’s who’s running Beto O’Rourke’s South Carolina campaign

Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke draws hundreds in Rock Hill

Democratic Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke made a campaign stop in Rock Hill Friday afternoon. O'Rourke was met by Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys and members of the Friendship Nine before visiting a large crowd at Amelie's Bakery.
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Democratic Presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke made a campaign stop in Rock Hill Friday afternoon. O'Rourke was met by Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys and members of the Friendship Nine before visiting a large crowd at Amelie's Bakery.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke is forming his South Carolina campaign team, choosing veterans with ties to local elected officials whose endorsements would be considered coups in the Palmetto State.

The former U.S. congressman from Texas has selected Lauren Harper and Tyler Jones to serve as state director and senior adviser, respectively, according to an official announcement shared first with McClatchy.

Harper is a former policy and communications adviser to Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, the city’s first black chief executive and current president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The CEO of her own public affairs firm and a former aide to S.C. Sen. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, Harper is also African American, an advantage for the O’Rourke campaign in a state where black women make up a powerful primary voting bloc.

Harper’s hire makes O’Rourke the latest “top tier” Democratic candidate to tap a black woman to run his South Carolina operation. Others who have made such appointments include U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Jones, who also runs a public affairs firm and was executive director for the S.C. House Democratic Caucus, served as the chief strategist for the 2018 campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, the first Democrat to win in South Carolina’s 1st District in almost four decades.

A leader of the “Draft Beto” movement in South Carolina prior to O’Rourke’s official campaign launch, Jones will continue to advise Cunningham on his reelection campaign, which will be among the most competitive congressional races next year.

In a statement, O’Rourke alluded to Harper’s and Jones’ experiences helping influential figures in South Carolina politics.

“From Lauren’s work lifting up the voices of Columbia’s families at City Hall and in the South Carolina State House to Tyler’s pivotal role in ushering in a new era of representation for residents of the 1st Congressional District, both of these dedicated leaders perfectly embody our campaign’s core value of showing up for and listening to the people,” said O’Rourke in a statement.

“Their addition to the team reaffirms our commitment to the idea that everyone counts and that no one can be taken for granted, and represents the first of many significant investments we’ll be making in the coming weeks,” O’Rourke continued.

Aside from U.S. House Majority Whip and South Carolina Democratic Party kingmaker Jim Clyburn, Benjamin and Cunningham are among the most sought-after endorsements in South Carolina.

Benjamin has said he will eventually endorse a candidate, but for the time being he has embraced his role as a facilitator for the various contenders making visits to the state — co-hosting town halls, making introductions and playing personal tour guide through Columbia. O’Rourke has already been a beneficiary of Benjamin’s hospitality, with Jones recently noting that the two men “hit it off.”

Cunningham has so far been more circumspect, at this time choosing not to make any public appearances with 2020 candidates, even on neutral terms. On a recent visit to Charleston, however, O’Rourke sought to associate himself with Cunningham, praising the freshman Democrat for his efforts to ban offshore drilling — a key local issue that helped Cunningham win his seat.

O’Rourke’s campaign plans to announce additional hires in South Carolina in the “coming weeks.”

Follow more of our reporting on First in the South

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Emma Dumain works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she reports on South Carolina politics for The State, The Herald, The Sun News, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. She was previously the Washington correspondent for the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. Dumain also covered Congress for Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.
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