WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s most prominent Democratic leader, downplayed on Sunday Democratic concerns that Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders could be a drag on the party’s ticket if he ultimately becomes its presidential nominee.
In an interview on “Meet the Press” six days before the pivotal South Carolina Democratic primary, Clyburn called Sanders the frontrunner after his commanding victory in Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday.
When asked about criticism of Sanders from his fellow Palmetto State Democrat, Rep. Joe Cunningham — who told a local reporter earlier this month that voters in his state “don’t want socialism” and that he wouldn’t support the tax increases needed to pay for Sanders’ plans — Clyburn defended Sanders by pointing to the work they’ve done together.
“I concur with his conclusions. I don’t know that all that should apply to Bernie Sanders,” Clyburn said of that criticism from Cunningham.
“I’ve worked very closely with Bernie Sanders on many issues — community health centers, we’ve been working on that together for 15 years," he said. "I think that Bernie Sanders brings a lot to the table for people to consider.”
But, Clyburn added, “I know why he’s nervous like that. Anybody who refers to themselves as a democratic socialist, that word has always had really dire consequences through South Carolina.”
Sanders has surged in the early weeks of the Democratic nominating calendar, scoring a virtual tie in Iowa followed by two back-to-back wins in New Hampshire and Nevada. Now the race turns to South Carolina, where former Vice President Joe Biden is looking to regroup and leverage his support among black voters into a victory.
When asked about Biden’s slide from the frontrunner post, Clyburn said that if South Carolina’s primary was on Monday, Biden would win more support from black voters than the rest of the field, but that Tuesday night’s debate would help crystalize the choice for voters.
“In the first two contests, people from South Carolina, like around the country, were looking at this," he said. "They thought that Joe Biden could have done more to engage during the debates, thought he could have done more to say why he would be deserving. And so, I think he suffered from that, he didn’t do enough. But I do believe a lot of that had to do with other candidates.”
And he said that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “did herself a lot of good” during last week’s debate by showing “she has tenacity.”
Explaining his plan to make an endorsement on Wednesday, the day after the next Democratic presidential debate, Clyburn said he believes the winner of the South Carolina primary would be in good shape for the race’s turn to the spate of contests on Super Tuesday and beyond.
“South Carolina has a demographic that lends itself well to Democratic voters especially,” Clyburn said.
“So I think if you can win South Carolina decisively, I think it will set the stage for Super Tuesday and you will become the odds-on favorite.”