The Buzz

The Buzz: Are S.C. Dems ready for Hillary?

The one Democratic candidate who has announced a run for president did not join Palmetto State Democrats this weekend for their annual fundraising dinner and state convention.

Word is Hillary Clinton – the heavyweight candidateand former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state – is expected to visit the state in May.

State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who backed Vice President Joe Biden for the nomination in 2008, said Clinton already is “gobbling up a lot of support” in South Carolina and has a “first-rate team.”

Former Democratic state House Rep. Bakari Sellers is backing Clinton. And Don Fowler, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and friend of the Clintons, also will stay in Hillary’s camp.

But other S.C. Democrats are holding their cards close to their chests, including former state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum. She was an early backer of then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who later brought Tenenbaum to Washington to chair the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Here’s what some leading Democrats have to say about Clinton and other their other (possible) 2016 options:

Hodges’ ‘big announcement’

Former S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges told The Buzz he has a “big announcement” to make in a couple of weeks.

Maybe South Carolina’s last Democratic governor is running for president himself – or, more likely, he is planning on endorsing a 2016 White House hopeful.

That candidate could be Clinton, who is expected to make her Palmetto State debut about the same time.

Hodges, who formerly co-chaired Obama’s national campaign, said he sees Clinton as the front-runner.

Not woeful about Joe

Hodges said he is not expecting Vice President Joe Biden to enter the race, adding it would be “difficult to believe that Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton would compete in a Democratic primary.”

But former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian is waiting with bated breath for Biden, his favorite, to enter the fray.

"The fact that he went to Iowa and New Hampshire gives me hope that he may get in the race," Harpo said.

As for Clinton, Harpo says his gut tells him she is going to struggle.

"This rollout – the mommy van visit to Iowa – there's a lack of authenticity there. It may just be that she can't do that. She's lived this life — as first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state — and what's she trying to say to people is, 'I'm like you. I have to go to the grocery store.’


Asked whether Harpo would back any other Democrat if Biden stays out, the attorney was noncommittal.

Of Clinton, he said, “She may surprise me, and I hope she does.”

Sheheen staying neutral

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, says he has not committed to anyone – official candidate or otherwise – for the Democratic presidential primary.

Clinton, he added, will have to compete in South Carolina, especially if an underdog candidate has a strong showing in Iowa, making the race a real contest.

“Although she’s well known as a national figure, she’s not well known at the local level as far as interactions, personal relationships, the level of comfort you tend to get with a primary,” said Sheheen, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2010 and 2014.

Democrats make frequent mention of Sheheen being a potential ally of former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The former chairman of the Democratic Governors Association helped S.C. Democrats last year, campaigning with Sheheen in his race for governor.

Sheheen said he planned to meet with O’Malley, in town for the Democrats’ convention, but says that does not mean he is backing the former governor. Sheheen, who also has met with former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, said he open to giving advice to any 2016 prospects wanting to know the lay of the land.

“Anybody that’s approached me, or their staff, I have shared with them my thoughts for what they’re worth,” he said. “I have won two statewide Democratic primaries.”

‘Came to the heart of my district’

State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, a big Hillary supporter in 2008, was coy this week when The Buzz asked whether he would recommit to the Clinton camp for 2016.

“I really haven’t tried to give it too much thought,” Jackson said, adding that O’Malley did help S.C. Democrats quite a bit last year in their efforts to take the governor’s office.

O’Malley also “came to the heart of my district,” said the Richland Democrat, whose communications firm had a “major consulting contract” with Clinton’s unsuccessful campaign in 2008.

This year, Jackson is letting business partner Antjuan Seawright run Sunrise Communications. The firm has not hooked up with any campaigns yet, Seawright said.

Boyd’s glass half full

Democrat Boyd Brown, a former state House representative, is firmly in O’Malley’s camp.

As Boyd paints it, Hillary’s advantages now may end up hurting her in the end.

“She's very high profile. And because of that there's no middle ground. You either love her or you hate her,” he said.

Clinton’s “popularity is at 50 percent and her name ID is higher than anybody else’s. Her popularity has peaked,” Brown said. “Martin O'Malley, his name ID is low.

“He's got nowhere to go but up.”

2016 in SC

▪  Rubio snags S.C. staffer: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s first S.C. hire, and only paid staffer in the state, is Katie Baham Gainey, who will direct the Florida Republican’s Palmetto State presidential campaign operations, The Buzz has learned. Baham Gainey worked for three years as campaign and elections director for Columbia-based First Tuesday Strategies. First Tuesday partner Warren Tompkins is running the Conservative Solutions political action committee, formed by Rubio supporters. Baham Gainey also worked as political director for the S.C. GOP Caucus and state Republican party, and ran Ken Ard's lieutenant governor primary campaign in 2010. (While Ard won, that race did not end well. Ard later resigned and entered a guilty plea to campaign finance violations.)

▪  GOP dinner lineup expands: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania will attend the S.C. Republican Party’s annual Silver Elephant Dinner Friday, along with U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus is keynoting.

Buzz Bites

Calling climate change deniers: Smith, the Democratic Richland state representative, said he “wasn't trying to snooker anybody” when he introduced an Earth Day resolution last week that acknowledges science has proven climate change and global warming are real and happening now. But Smith was surprised when the overwhelmingly GOP S.C. House of Representatives adopted the resolution unanimously without even a whimper of suspicion. The resolution did not include the real trigger for climate change deniers: the idea that humans have any impact on global warming.

(More) Republicans for Deerin: Charleston Democratic mayoral candidate Ginny Deerin picked up an endorsement from former GOP state Rep. Jimmy Bailey. Courting the GOP is kind of Deerin's thing. The Sullivan's Island resident was the first Democrat to receive an endorsement from the fiscally conservative S.C. Club for Growth in her race for S.C. secretary of state last year. Despite that boost and endorsements from other Republicans, Deerin lost.

Clyburn headlines Clyburn series: U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn will be the keynote speaker Monday for the eighth annual James E. Clyburn Health Disparities Lecture, called "Pass the Torch, Re-Ignite the Flame: Approach Health Disparities with Passion Beyond Commitment." The event, which starts at 10 a.m. at the Hilton Columbia Center, is hosted by the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health and the Institute for Partnerships to Eliminate Health Disparities.

Andrew Shain contributed. Reach Self at (803) 771-8658