Joe Biden lands 2020 presidential endorsement from SC senator

2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia

2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia at the Hyatt Park Community Center
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2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia at the Hyatt Park Community Center

A South Carolina state senator and two-time Democratic candidate for governor has endorsed Joe Biden for president.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen told The State this week he will support the former vice president in the state’s February Democratic presidential primary. And, should Biden be the party’s nominee, Sheheen said he will work to ensure Biden crosses the finish line.

The endorsement and promise to assist Biden in a meaningful way is a change of pace for the Kershaw County Democrat who told The State he has generally avoided wading into national politics, wanting to focus more on the State House, where he serves on various committees overseeing state priorities such as education and the budget.

Sheheen endorsed then-Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley in the state’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary, and not the mainstream favorite, Hillary Clinton.

“I don’t do this normally,” Sheheen said. “I am very focused on South Carolina as a state elected official, and I always have been. I’m a small town guy, entrenched in the community and ... I’ve always tried to stay South Carolina focused.”

But the 2020 presidential race is different, said Sheheen, who said he ultimately decided to back Biden this summer.

Sheheen could help Biden with his ground game, having run twice for governor in 2010 and then again in 2014 against Republican Nikki Haley. In the pair’s first match up, Sheheen lost by less than 5 percentage points, giving hope to Democrats that they could take back a statewide office. (In the rematch, he did not come so close, losing by about 14 percentage points.)

The senator said he does not anticipate having a formal role with the campaign but has offered any assistance when necessary, including introducing Biden to state leaders and to the State House and holding events in his Senate district.

Should Biden be the nominee, Sheheen said he is willing to stump for the former Delaware senator in swing states and talk to undecided voters, independents and moderates about why they should support Biden for president.

Sheheen represents District 27, which includes Chester, Kershaw and Lancaster counties — traditionally red counties that have some Democratic representation, but where Sheheen sees opportunity for Biden to appeal to more moderate Republican voters.

“Absolutely, I hear it over and over again,” Sheheen said, when asked whether he hears moderate Republican voters in his district say they might vote for Biden. “Whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, black or white, he speaks to everyone as one people.”

Since his endorsement, Sheheen said he has spoken to Biden and offered him advice. For starters, continue to be himself, he said.

“I really believe in Joe Biden and Joe Biden’s heart,” said Sheheen, who received support from Biden during his campaigns. “I don’t think that I’ve ever met a presidential candidate that has as good of a heart as Joe Biden. At this time with the division in our country and in our state, having a solid, good man with a good heart is really important. Our national government seems very dysfunctional right now, and I want to have, for my children’s sake, a president who can get our government working again for the people.”

Sheheen said he doesn’t make much of Biden’s propensity for gaffes.

“I see that as him not being over controlled by handlers. I see it as him not pretending to be perfect,” he said. “I think we’re just seeing the real Joe Biden, and we’re going to keep seeing the real Joe Biden. He’s just a contrast with the kind of movie, TV star, glam, billionaire leaders we see more and more of who I don’t think can relate to regular people.”

In a 2013 stop at the state’s Democratic Party’s annual fundraising dinner, Biden jokingly told the crowd he owes his bluntness to one man: the late and longtime U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings.

“When people say, ‘Why does Joe Biden, why is he so blunt?’ I sat next to Fritz for 32 years,” Biden told the crowd in Columbia. “What in the hell did you expect me to be? What did you expect? I learned from the best.”

It’s also Biden’s relationship with the state and his support for education that has earned Sheheen’s support, he said.

“Joe Biden has looked out for us in South Carolina through his career,” Sheheen said. “That means a lot to me.”

Stumping in a storm?

As is presidential politics in South Carolina, a storm’s path can be hard to track.

One 2020 presidential hopeful learned that lesson this week.

In an email that had Democratic strategists — and reporters — scratching their heads, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s campaign sent a public schedule release Tuesday that the Ohio congressman planned to stump in the Pee Dee area, Orangeburg, Columbia and the Upstate.

Hurricane Dorian paid parts of the Palmetto State a visit the latter end of this week.

And sure, the storm had no plans to hit the Upstate.

But in Orangeburg, schools shut down, college classes were canceled and the county was put under tropical storm advisories.

When The State asked the campaign for a tour recap, a spokesman said the tours were canceled and Ryan was headed to Greenville.

Come one, come all

South Carolina will get some reprieve from heavy presidential politicking for at least a week.

Ten of the presidential candidates in Houston on Thursday will meet for a one-night-only debate. But then they’re back to the Palmetto State Sept. 16 for the Galivants Ferry Stump, a Democratic tradition in Horry County featuring so far this year six presidential hopefuls.

They are: Biden; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana; U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was announced as an attendee on Wednesday.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California will return to Charleston that following Saturday, for a NAACP Charleston branch banquet.

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