Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina congressman whose endorsement proved pivotal in Joe Biden’s pursuit of the White House three years ago, has said he believes the US president deserves a second term, marking the latest sign that national Democrats are rallying around a Biden re-election campaign.
In an interview this week with the Financial Times, the influential member of the Democratic leadership dismissed concerns about the president’s age and said he saw “no reason” for Biden not to seek four more years in the White House. Biden has repeatedly signalled that he will run for a second term, but stopped short of formally launching a re-election campaign.
“I want him to run . . . I see no reason for him not to run,” Clyburn said. “And I am very hopeful that he should run. I think he is deserving of a second term. I do not believe that anybody can do a better job of trying to get us back on track.”
Clyburn is widely credited with reviving Biden’s faltering presidential campaign in 2020, helping the former vice-president win the South Carolina primary and then sweep the so-called Super Tuesday contests by helping boost African-American turnout.
A failure to gain Clyburn’s backing for a second term could have thrown Biden’s re-election candidacy into question. But the Democratic congressman, who is a trusted informal adviser to the president, said he fully backs a Biden re-election bid.
“He still may not do it. But he has got to keep building to that point,” said Clyburn, 82, calling Biden “as decent a person as you can have”.
Clyburn made headlines shortly before last November’s midterm elections, when he said at a campaign stop in North Carolina that he would not comment on Biden’s re-election prospects until the midterms were over.
But this week Clyburn credited Biden with the Democratic party’s strong performance in the elections, where they defied expectations and did better than expected in several key races, holding on to control of the US Senate as they lost the House of Representatives by a narrow margin.
Clyburn’s support comes after Biden backed an overhaul of the Democratic primary schedule that makes South Carolina the first contest in the nation, supplanting New Hampshire and Iowa as a critical battleground.
Clyburn was adamant he and Biden did not discuss the changes in advance. The Democratic National Committee has since endorsed the plan, sparking outrage among party activists in New Hampshire.
“He wanted South Carolina first. I wanted South Carolina to stay right where it was,” Clyburn said, likening the state to a “clean-up” hitter in baseball, traditionally the most powerful hitter on the team who is fourth in the batting order and relied upon for scoring runs.
Asked why he thought Biden had made the move, Clyburn replied: “Because I think he’s planning to run again.”
Clyburn spoke to the FT on the heels of a State of the Union speech that saw Biden clash with House Republicans and make an impassioned pitch for his economic agenda. At several points in his address, the president went off-script — something Clyburn welcomed.
“I often say to the president that it is one thing to give information. It is something else to engender emotions,” Clyburn said. “I think that is what he did.”
The congressman brushed aside concerns that Biden, 80, is too old to seek another four years in the White House. If re-elected, Biden would be the oldest president to take the Oath of Office in US history.
“We all age differently,” Clyburn said, noting he is two years older than the president. “They said the same thing about . . . Ronald Reagan. How many people said Ronald Reagan was too old? Do you remember in his debate with Walter Mondale, the classic line?”
In a 1984 presidential debate, Reagan, a Republican, responded to a moderator’s question by quipping: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Reagan ultimately defeated Mondale, his Democratic opponent, by a landslide, securing more Electoral College votes than any presidential candidate in US history.
Clyburn shied from commenting on Biden’s potential Republican challengers for 2024. So far Donald Trump remains the only Republican to formally enter the race. But several polls show Florida governor Ron DeSantis leading Trump among likely Republican voters, and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is expected to launch her campaign in Charleston next week.
Asked about Haley and Tim Scott — the Republican senator from South Carolina who has also been mooted as a possible candidate — Clyburn paused for several seconds, before saying: “I don’t mess with Republican politics.”
The congressman suggested, however, that the primary calendar change would put Biden in a stronger position to face down any possible challenge from a fellow Democrat, citing the example of Lyndon B Johnson, the Democratic president who abandoned a re-election bid in 1968 after nearly losing the New Hampshire primary to Eugene McCarthy, an antiwar lawmaker.
“Lyndon Johnson . . . got creamed in New Hampshire and it derailed his presidency, and he quit,” Clyburn said. “That is not lost on Joe Biden, and it damn sure is not lost on me.”
No Democrat has so far publicly suggested a challenge to Biden for the party’s nomination. Asked whether he thought Biden would face any competition from within the party, Clyburn replied: “No, I don’t think so.”
But he struck a cautionary note, adding: “However, nobody thought anyone would challenge Lyndon Johnson. You can’t fly in the face of history.”