South Carolina kingmaker Rep. James Clyburn endorses Joe Biden ahead of primary

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina kingmaker and the highest-ranking African American in Congress, endorsed Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday – a key pick up for Biden in a must-win primary that will turn on the state's large black vote.

"If you send me out of South Carolina with a victory, there will be no stopping us," Biden said in accepting the long-sought Clyburn endorsement.

In a lengthy introduction, Clyburn said Biden is the best bet for South Carolina and the nation, particularly for African-Americans. He said the prospect of a second term for President Donald Trump makes him "fearful" for the future.

"I know Joe," Clyburn said. "We know Joe … But most importantly, Joe knows us."

Clyburn, the majority whip in the Democratic-led House, hailed Biden despite a long-standing policy of not endorsing a candidate. He has already cut television ads for the former vice president and is expected to campaign with him in the closing days of the primary.

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African-Americans, many of whom revere Clyburn, are expected to make up more than 60% of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina. African-Americans are also a big part of Biden's base.

Biden, who struggled in early primary and caucus states and is looking to South Carolina to revive his campaign, said Clyburn has a "powerful moral clarity" that will carry him to victory.

Biden also took pokes at rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying voters don't want a "revolution" in government. "What the country is looking for is results," Biden said.

Employing his stump speech, Biden also promised to fight for gun control, quality and pledged to appoint the first woman of color to the Supreme Court.

"It should look like the country," Biden said. "It's long past time."

Biden again cast the general election as an effort to "restore the soul of America," and Trump "does not represent it."

Democratic opponents like Bernie Sanders say Biden is too much a part of the Democratic establishment to defeat Trump in a general election; Trump says he would easily defeat an out-of-touch "Sleepy Joe."

Clyburn, a living legend in South Carolina politics, has an unparalleled network in the state, particularly among African American voters.

As a student at South Carolina State College, Clyburn was arrested after an anti-segregation protest in 1960. For more than two decades, Clyburn held various posts in South Carolina politics and state government before his election in a newly created congressional district in 1992.

He rose to the position of majority whip, the third highest-ranking position in the House behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Biden and Clyburn have been longtime friends, but Clyburn stayed cagey in the days leading up to his endorsement announcement. He also spoke fondly of candidates Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

Clyburn expressed less enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer, warning Democrats they should not nominate anybody outside the political mainstream.

A former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clyburn has spent time in past elections stumping for Democratic candidates in competitive races throughout the country.

Clyburn is expected to work in 2020 on get-out-the-vote efforts in African-American communities, particularly in the South.

Earlier in the morning, Biden spoke warmly about Clyburn during a prayer breakfast featuring the Democratic candidates.

"Jim, you're one of the finest men I've ever met," Biden told the South Carolina congressman. "Not just in public life, but ever."

An emotional Clyburn, widowed in September, choked up when he talked about how his late wife Emily "loved" Biden as a leader and talked about him "all the time."

Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden wins support of James Clyburn, South Carolina power broker