The flame-throwing former chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party is backing Bernie Sanders.
Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian, a booster of Barack Obama in the state’s 2008 primary, endorsed the U.S. senator from Vermont Wednesday.
Harpootlian said he decided to endorse Sanders after speaking to the senator, comparing him to President Obama.
“After talking to Bernie Sanders, I had that same feeling — that this guy is an inspirational figure and about changing the direction of this country,” Harpootlian said, adding he had planned to back then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic race until he met Obama.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The State
“The only reason I felt I needed to speak out publicly, is to say publicly what I've heard a lot of people say off the record or under their breath,” said Harpootlian, referring to dissatisfaction among some S.C. Democrats with Clinton.
Sanders is “not newly converted” to opposing Wall Street’s big banks, Harpootlian said. "He’s not somebody who took $600,000 from Goldman Sachs last year and is railing against them this year," he added, digging at Clinton who has received speaking fees from the investment bank and others on Wall Street.
The Clinton campaign did not comment on the endorsement.
Last year, Harpootlian — known for his tart tongue — was among the South Carolinians pushing for Vice President Joe Biden to seek the Democratic nomination.
When Biden said he would not run, Harpootlian said he did not expect to back any candidate, saying none excited him. At the time, he also predicted Clinton – who he has been critical of, accusing her of lacking authenticity – would win the Democratic nomination.
Harpootlian said Thursday Sanders’ showing in the Iowa caucus earlier this week, closing a double-digit deficit to effectively tie Clinton, shows “she’s not resonating. She's not an inspirational figure.”
Harpootlian – who, according to USA Today, collected more than $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 re-election bid – said he would donate the maximum amount to Sanders’ campaign — $2700 for the primary — and help him raise money and support.
“I believe strongly that he will be a great president. I will do whatever they ask me to do.”
The endorsement comes as Clinton’s campaign has been turning up its S.C. get-out-the-vote efforts and sending high-powered surrogates to the state to campaign for her.
Clinton also has secured several high-profile endorsements from S.C. Democratic leaders, including former S.C. Govs. Jim Hodges and Dick Riley, and former Obama administration official and state schools chief Inez Tenenbaum.
Harpootlian said Clinton’s campaign “machine” will be tough to beat. “If you believe in endorsement politics, it will be difficult.”
But, he added, Obama also surprised people in 2008.
"If we're going to turn the page, Bernie Sanders is the candidate, not Hillary Clinton.”