(CN) – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked up a key endorsement ahead of this weeks’ Democratic president primary in South Carolina, that of Rep. Jim Clyburn, long the most influential Democrat in the state.
Clyburn, who served as House Majority Whip from 2007 to 2011, had stayed out of the presidential electoral fray until this weekend, saying that he enjoyed a pleasant and positive working relationship with both Clinton and Vermont Sem. Bernie Sanders.
However, at a news conference in Columbia, S.C. , Clyburn said “My heart has always been with Hillary Clinton, but my head had me in a neutral corner.”
As the South Carolina primary grew ever-nearer, however, he said he discussed the candidates and the broader political landscape with his wife and family, and concluded it was time to make a clear choice.
“I have decided to terminate my neutrality and get engaged,” he said.
Clyburn, the son of a fundamentalist minister and a beautician, has represented South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District since 1993, and his district will likely prove critical to the success of the eventual winner of the Democratic primary, on Saturday, Feb. 27.
The configuration of the 6th Congressional District was defined in the early 1990s in a deal between state Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly creating a majority-minority district in which most of the registered voters are black.
Both Clinton and Sanders have been aggressively courting the black vote in the state, where 52 percent of those likely to vote in the Democratic primary being African-American.
The district encompasses the largely rural Interstate-95 corridor in eastern South Carolina, including Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Clarendon, Colleton, Hampton and Williamsburg counties and parts of Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Orangeburg and Richland counties.
“I learned a long time ago that Hillary Clinton is a fighter and that’s what we need in our next president,” Clyburn said before a gathering of reporters at Allen University in Columbia.
“Hillary Clinton is far and away the best choice to reform our criminal justice system and restore the Voting Rights Act to its rightful place,” he said, adding, “I want to do everything I can to help Hillary Clinton crack the ultimate glass ceiling.”
Despite making his choice, Clyburn acknowledged that many in his district are supporting Sanders.
“I’m for Hillary. I think Hillary’s the best choice. But whoever you are for, you go out. You work for that candidate. And you vote. I don’t have any problem with anybody who is out working for Bernie Sanders,” he said.
In a statement, Clinton said she was “incredibly honored” to have Clyburn’s support.
“I look forward to working with him to fight for universal health care, make college affordable, protect the environment, end red-lining in housing once and for all, make it easier to start and grow small businesses, expand his innovative “10-20-30″ approach to invest in underserved communities and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and find every way we can to help families get ahead and stay ahead,” she said.
Clinton is expected to be campaigning in South Carolina on Tuesday. On Sunday Sanders put in his first campaign appearances of primary week, stopping at a church luncheon in West Columbia before holding a rally in Greenville Sunday afternoon.
Today, the campaigns will mostly rely on surrogates. The Actor Danny Glover is in Charleston on Monday on Sanders’ behalf. At a late after appearanc at Sanders’ local campaign headquarters, the actor said “I wish I could knock on every door” to encourage voters to support the Vermont senator.
After firing up the local campaign staff, Glover traveled to Fish Restaurant in downtown Charleston for the Charleston Democratic Party’s “countdown to the primary” event.
Meanwhile the Clinton campaign is holding a series of “breaking down barriers” forums across the states featuring five mothers who have lost children to gun violence and police incidents, including Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; and Lucy McBath, mother of Jordan Davis.
The women will be accompanied by several prominent civil rights lawyers, including Benjamin Crump, Gregg Greer, Cannon Lambert, and Billy Murphy.
Also in the state is the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has been touring South Carolina since Saturday, encouraging people to get out and vote.
On Saturday, Rev. Jackson visited four counties, and on Sunday he appeared at three church rallies in three more.
On Monday he was scheduled to appear in Winsborro, S.C., followed by stops at Midlands Technical College and Allen University in Columbia.
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