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Clyburn to give influential Democratic presidential endorsement days before South Carolina primary

South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn on Sunday said he’ll endorse a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate after Tuesday night’s Democratic debate — just three days before the state’s primary, a key early contest in the party’s nomination process.

Clyburn, the House Majority Whip and a key South Carolina voice, has not yet made a public endorsement in the race but said he’ll announce his decision Wednesday morning. The third-ranking Democrat in the House told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield that he has known for some time who he was going to support, but that he had promised the Democratic National Committee and the South Carolina debate sponsors he would not “get out in front of the debate and render any kind of confusion about it.”

“I’m going to reveal exactly who I think is best and why I think that person is best,” he said of his planned Wednesday announcement. “I hope that there would be a majority of South Carolinians agreeing with me.”

Clyburn made similar comments to ABC and NBC earlier Sunday, saying that while he accepts Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as the 2020 Democratic frontrunner, if the state’s primary election was held tomorrow, former Vice President Joe Biden would capture more votes from African Americans than any other Democrat.

“Well, I would accept the fact that he’s the frontrunner. I want South Carolina to have its say before I talk about who would be the odds on favorite,” Clyburn said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“All these candidates will get some African American votes. No question about that,” he said. “I do believe, however, that if we were having the election tomorrow that Joe Biden would have more of the vote. How much more, I don’t know yet. I think the debate on Tuesday night will have an impact and I think that some activity after that might have an impact as well.”

Clyburn relishes the attention his endorsement receives every four years in the South Carolina primary.

It comes with all of the caveats for any other endorsement, but many Democrats turn to Clyburn for guidance, which is why it would be devastating for Biden to not receive his backing.

The former vice president — who has said he believes he will receive the endorsement — said earlier Sunday that he had talked to Clyburn within the last week.

Biden said he was not “counting on anything” but added “I’m hopeful.” Biden said the two talked about the state of the race in South Carolina and why he should work to try to win the primary there.

Biden has made South Carolina — and mobilizing the black voters who could make up as much as two-thirds of the electorate — the centerpiece of his third bid for the presidency. And in the run-up to the early contests, support from African Americans voters helped make Biden the early front-runner among Democrats.

Asked by CNN’s Jeff Zeleny Sunday if he thought South Carolina was still his firewall, Biden said he thinks his campaign will perform well in South Carolina.

“Well, I think it’s the state that I’m going to do well in,” he said. “It has 60% of this vote…is African American vote. They have an opportunity to basically choose who the nominee is.”

Clyburn recently said he doesn’t know whether Biden can pull off a win.

“I think there’s a lot of activity taking place here, and we are going to have a very spirited contest,” Clyburn previously said on CNN.

CNN projected on Saturday that Sanders will win the Nevada caucuses, showing the power of his organization and amplifying his argument that he can broaden his appeal across the Democratic electorate based on the results from the most diverse state in party’s nominating contest so far. The win solidified Sanders as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Biden fell short in the caucuses on Saturday after his fourth and fifth place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, but has held a lead in the polls among African Americans in Nevada. He is also predicting he will win it’s Democratic primary later this week.

Early entrance polls in Nevada showed Sanders winning Latino voters by 54%, some 40 percentage points ahead of the next candidate, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Sanders also won among white voters; Biden led among black voters in those early snapshots of the electorate.

Clyburn said Sunday that Sanders “brings a lot to the table” and can “energize a crowd,” but also expressed worry that if Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, were to win the Democratic nomination, it could cost Democrats seats in Congress.

“On Super Tuesday, people are concerned about this whole self-proclaimed democratic socialist,” he told Whitfield. “We are trying to rebuild our party in South Carolina. We are trying to elect more people to Congress.”

He later added, “We’ve just passed over 400 bills that are sitting over in the Senate, and we need somebody over in the Senate that will bring those bills to the floor. So the way to do that is to maintain our majority in the House, regain the majority in the Senate, and put somebody in the White House who will sign these bills once we pass them in these two bodies.”

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