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Clyburn, South Carolina's top Democrat, endorses Biden ahead of pivotal primary

Clyburn endorses Biden ahead of S.C. primary

Congressman James Clyburn, the third highest-ranking Democrat in the House and one of the most powerful forces in South Carolina politics, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president on Wednesday, three days ahead of the Palmetto State's crucial primary.

"I will be voting for Joe Biden. I want South Carolinians to vote for Joe Biden," Clyburn said at an event with Biden in North Charleston, South Carolina. "I know Joe. We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us."

Clyburn said he is "fearful for the future of this country," and grappled with his choice before deciding to endorse his longtime friend and political ally.

"I can't think of anyone better suited, better prepared, I can think of no one with the integrity, no one more committed to the fundamental principles that make this country what it is than my great friend, my late wife's great friend, Joe Biden," he added.

Speaking after Clyburn, Biden said he was there "with everything I've got, to earn the support of the people of South Carolina."

"I promise you this — if you send me out of South Carolina with a victory, there will be no stopping us. We'll win the nomination. We'll win the presidency," Biden said. "And most importantly we'll eliminate the fear so many have in this country of a second term of Donald Trump."

Saturday's primary will test the former vice president's longstanding support among the African American community, the largest Democratic voting bloc in the state, as well as his viability in the race for the party's presidential nomination.

The endorsement from Clyburn, the House majority whip and a member of Congress since 1993, is a much-needed boost for Biden as he tries to blunt Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' momentum and reestablish himself as a leading candidate in the field. After leading the polls for weeks ahead of the first nominating contests, Biden underperformed in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, splitting support from moderate Democratic voters with candidates like Senator Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg.

At the tenth Democratic presidential debate hosted by CBS News on Tuesday, Biden vowed to win Saturday's contest, saying he had worked to earn the votes of Palmetto State Democrats.

"I've worked like the devil to earn the votes of the African American community, not just here but around the country. I've been coming here for years and years," Biden said. "I don't expect anything. I plan to earn the vote."

"I intend to win South Carolina and I will win the African American vote in South Carolina," he added.

In a CBS News poll released Sunday, the former vice president under President Obama held a single-digit lead over Sanders. Although still in the lead, Biden has seen his support in South Carolina drop, while candidates like Sanders and Tom Steyer have seen their backing among likely voters in the state rise. 

In addition to Clyburn's endorsement, Biden, who represented Delaware in the Senate for more than 35 years, had already received the backing of 18 members of the Congressional Black Caucus — the most of any candidate in the Democratic primary for president.

Bo Erickson contributed to this report. 

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