U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn will endorse Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the state’s presidential primary, a Clinton campaign aide told The State Thursday night.
The endorsement will come at 11 a.m. Friday at Columbia’s Allen University, a source close to Clyburn also confirmed.
The endorsement by the state's lone Democrat in Congress and the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House comes as Clinton is facing down a tough battle in Nevada, which holds its Democratic caucus Saturday.
S.C. Democrats vote on Feb. 27.
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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has narrowed Clinton's lead in Nevada to 3 percentage points from more than 20 points.
A Sanders' win in Nevada, with its large number of Hispanic and Latino voters, would show Sanders' appeal extends to minorities, not just the mostly white voters who supported him in Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders effectively tied Clinton in Iowa before crushing her in New Hampshire.
Clyburn's endorsement could help shore up South Carolina — and the South — as Clinton's firewall.
South Carolina is the candidates’ first test in a state with a large number of African-American voters, expected to cast more than half the ballots in the state’s primary.
How candidates perform here will provide insight into how they will fare among Democratic voters in states that start voting March 1, when the contest spreads quickly across the South and West.
Clinton’s lead has dropped in South Carolina as Sanders has gained support. But the frontrunner remains 23 points ahead, having won every poll of the race. She is also the favorite of African-American voters, a recent poll shows.
Clyburn’s backing “further demonstrates Clinton’s support among the African- American community” and elected officials, said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts.
“Her campaign has had some disappointments,” but she remains strong among black Southerners, he said.
Clyburn joins other prominent S.C. Democrats in endorsing Clinton. Former S.C. Democratic Govs. Jim Hodges and Dick Riley support Clinton, along with more than two dozen S.C. legislators, and state and local elected officials.
In his 12th term, Clyburn represents a congressional district that stretches from Columbia to Charleston and straddles Interstate 95 – dubbed the "Corridor of Shame" for its once-flourishing agricultural communities, now struggling from years of persistently high poverty.
Support from the state's most prominent Democrat also provides a endnote to the 2008 Democratic presidential race, when a little-known U.S. senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, took the S.C. primary by storm.
Clyburn did not endorse in the 2008 contest. However, the Clintons faced criticism for comments former President Bill Clinton made, comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson who won the state in 1984 and 1988 but did not go on to win the party's nomination.
In his memoir Blessed Experiences, Clyburn recalled an angry, early morning call from Bill Clinton afterward, wanting to know why the former first lady had lost the S.C. primary and accusing Clyburn of making the campaign about race.
“If you bastards want a fight, you damn well will get one,” the former president said, Clyburn wrote in his memoir.
Clyburn has said there are no hard feelings between him and the Clintons.
However, as in 2008, questions about Hillary Clinton's primary vulnerability have dogged her again this year. While Sanders chips away at her lead nationally, the former secretary of state continues to dominate in S.C. polls.
Clyburn had planned to stay neutral in the S.C. race but said recently that he felt pressure to weigh in. He said the pressure came especially from Clinton supporters, including his wife and one of his daughters.
The Congressional Black Caucus' political action committee, of which Clyburn is a member, endorsed Clinton earlier this month.
Knotts said not getting Clyburn’s endorsement could have hurt Clinton. "Not having Clyburn would potentially raise some questions.”