Clyburn Holds Off on Endorsement for Now

Posted January 21, 2004 at 6:08pm

While insisting he’s undecided about a second presidential endorsement, powerful South Carolina Democrat Rep. James Clyburn hinted Wednesday that he may be leaning toward Sens. John Edwards (N.C.) or John Kerry (Mass.).

Clyburn, who backed Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) before his withdrawal from the race this week, said his decision to support another candidate would be based on who pushes the best programs and can best connect with voters. The vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus also made clear that he’s partial to a candidate who pushes a positive message — one he said was advanced by both Edwards and Kerry heading out of Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

“I long for the day when nice would be in,” Clyburn said in a conference call with reporters. “I’d love for a day when campaigns were run without acrimony.”

The prominent black Member said he’s drawn to “a candidate who can run the kind of campaign that could endear him to ordinary people.”

When pressed on whether that meant he was leaning toward Edwards — who has made a positive campaign his trademark — Clyburn said: “I don’t have a problem with Edwards and I don’t have a problem with Kerry.” Later, however, Clyburn stressed he’s made no decisions.

“I’m not leaning toward anybody at this point in time,” he said.

Clyburn speculated that Gephardt and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean were hurt in Iowa after turning negative, adding that he felt “Kerry was as positive as Edwards.” He said that he believed Dean, who finished third in Iowa, was damaged more by his notably angry speech following the results than the outcome itself.

The South Carolina Democrat said his first endorsement of Gephardt was an easy choice, noting that they are longtime friends and he was loyal to his former leader. If not for Gephardt, Clyburn said, he wouldn’t have risen to House leadership and won a powerful spot on the Appropriations Committee.

The former Minority Leader exited the race Monday after finishing a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses, a make-or-break state for him.

Since Gephardt’s withdrawal, the remaining presidential candidacies have heavily courted Clyburn’s endorsement, which he said he is unlikely to hand out before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. All of the remaining candidates except for Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) have reached out to Clyburn since Gephardt announced his departure, he said.

Clyburn said he wants to lend the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary as much influence as possible, acknowledging that holding out for a few days on a second endorsement gives the Southern state with a large black Democratic electorate more weight.

Clyburn said he has personal ties to some of the campaigns, noting that a cousin is helping Edwards and his district director is on board with the Kerry campaign. He said he must consider his South Carolina relationships and loyalties as well as his family’s opinion before endorsing again.

Beyond that, Clyburn wants to ensure that the needs of South Carolina’s residents play a role in the nomination. He said he wants to back a presidential candidate with strong initiatives to create jobs, provide health coverage and ensure personal security, key needs of his home state.