SC Dem running for Congress scores endorsement from prominent mayor Steve Benjamin

The Democrat looking to unseat 17-year incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson has secured a significant endorsement.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin — one of the most recognized Democratic lawmakers in the state, and one with national connections, thanks to his term as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors — is throwing his support behind Adair Ford Boroughs in South Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District.

Benjamin will officially endorse Boroughs, a Williston native and former U.S. Department of Justice attorney, at a happy hour for supporters at Carolina Ale House in Columbia on Thursday evening.

“Getting to know Adair, I see how she was raised in our district, the daughter of a public school teacher and a cabinet maker, who graduated at the top of her class from grade school to law school,” said Benjamin in a statement provided to The State. “I see how she was fighting for what was right at the Department of Justice, where she stood up for the American people against corporations and millionaires who cheated on their taxes.

“I see how she returned to the community she loves to raise her two young daughters and to continue to serve the people,” he continued. “Adair has my full support.”

Boroughs has a steep climb ahead to take out Wilson, a senior member of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee where he can boast he’s advocated for the state’s robust military community.

The district is also one of the more conservative, leading to wide victory margins for Wilson in 2016 and 2018. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes U.S. elections and campaigns, ranks the district solidly Republican.

Still, Boroughs’ strong fundraising quarter — the most money raised by a Democrat in the 2nd District in nearly four decades — raised eyebrows. Benjamin’s endorsement could further cement her standing as a candidate to be taken seriously.

First, Boroughs is not running unopposed for the Democratic nomination to face off against Wilson in November 2020: she is competing against Lawrence Nathaniel, a former community organizer for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. That Benjamin would take sides in a primary is notable.

Second, Benjamin has a reputation for becoming involved in the campaigns of candidates he has endorsed. He could boost Boroughs’ name recognition and help her raise money in and outside the state.

“When Steve puts his name to something, it’s not so much his name, it’s the sweat equity he’s going to put into it, whether it’s helping to raise money, knocking on doors, putting his name on mail, being a surrogate,” Kendall Corley, a South Carolina Democratic operative who is close with Benjamin, told The State back in April.

Benjamin also told The State on Thursday evening he would campaign for Boroughs wherever he could be helpful, in and outside South Carolina.

Wilson has not faced a well-funded Democratic contender since 2010, when he defeated Beaufort Democrat and Iraq War veteran Rob Miller.

Miller raised about $3 million for his bid to unseat Wilson, who raised $4.7 million in that race, making it one of the most expensive races in the nation at the time.

But that race also took place in the wake of Wilson shouting “you lie” at then-President Barack Obama, as Obama was delivering an address on health care from the floor of the U.S. House.

The outburst catapulted Wilson to the national spotlight as both parties sought to fundraise off of the unprecedented event.

Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.