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Clyburns Split On 2020 Presidential Endorsements


Earlier this week, we sat down with what we can only call South Carolina Democratic royalty. We are here with Congressman James Clyburn, the - one of the giants of South Carolina politics, third-ranking Democrat in the House, member of the House leadership, and an up-and-coming political organizer by the name of...

WALTER A CLYBURN REED: Walter A. Clyburn Reed.

MARTIN: And you happen to be on different sides this time - at least, when it comes to the primary.

CLYBURN REED: Yes, we are.

MARTIN: Congressman Clyburn came out earlier this week in support of former Vice President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, his 25-year-old grandson, Walter A. Clyburn Reed, known as AC, has been organizing for Pete Buttigieg. All we can say is it's going to be an interesting Thanksgiving. How'd you break it to grandpa that you were going in a different direction?

CLYBURN REED: So I looked into every candidate because I really wanted to organize for a particular campaign. I just didn't know which one. So - but when I looked into Pete, I was immediately taken away. And, of course, I broke the news to him. And...


CLYBURN REED: Oh, boy. He kind of gave me a little bit of a smirk. But I said, this is the path I want to go.

JAMES CLYBURN: He came to my house because we live in the same neighborhood.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CLYBURN: In fact, he's my neighbor. He lives across the street. And he came across the street. I knew something was on his mind. And he told me what he wanted to do. And so I told him I'd be glad to be (unintelligible) candidate. But I said to him, in all probability, we're going to be on opposite sides in this one.

MARTIN: And how come you think - what attracted you to Pete Buttigieg? What made you think he was the right candidate to support at this time?

CLYBURN REED: I thought that his age could be used as a positive. He comes from, of course, the older spectrum, but he comes from my generation - a generation who has had to deal with particular past issues, whether it be Sept. 11, whether it be war, whether it be - not only war but also, like, mass shootings and things of that nature. And so he would take those issues in a much more real fashion.

MARTIN: You feel like he speaks more for your generation.

CLYBURN REED: Yes, ma'am.

MARTIN: And what about you, Mr. Clyburn? You know, you've had a lot to say about this over the last couple of days, but just for the sake of fairness, I'm going to ask you, why was Joe Biden your candidate?

CLYBURN: Well, I sincerely believe that experience is the best teacher. I think that our country is at an inflection point. You know, I was around and very active in the '60s, when we knew that we were breaking the mold, so to speak. But I never feared anything about the country until now. I absolutely fear for AC's future. And he doesn't have the same fear that I have because he doesn't have the same experiences I've had. I think that he has experienced some of what I've experienced. He would be (unintelligible) Joe Biden, too.


CLYBURN: So we have to take all that into account.

MARTIN: Well, both of your candidates are having their struggles, it has to be said. I mean, Joe Biden came into South Carolina with a very strong lead, and it's narrowed significantly. He's gotten - you know, and he's he said this himself - he's kind of gotten shellacked those first three contests, and he's looking to South Carolina to kind of recover. But he's struggling. And Pete Buttigieg has had his own problems, particularly with certain constituencies. So why do you think that is?

So first, Walter, why do you think your candidate's not doing as well as he could, particularly given that you think his message is so attractive, and the total package is so attractive?

CLYBURN REED: I believe that he's having these particularly issues - first is because name recognition. What I've noticed with voters is that - of course, definitely door to door - is that, you know, I'll be, like, you know, I'm with the Pete campaign. They're, like, Pete? Who's Pete? You Pete?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

CLYBURN REED: I'm, like, no, I'm not Pete. And, like, I'll pull out a...

MARTIN: He's wearing a Pete sweatshirt...


MARTIN: ...Just for the people who can't see.

CLYBURN REED: They're, like, oh, so you Pete. I'm, like, no, I'm not Pete. This is Pete. You know, I'll have a little placard. And they'll be, like, OK. Who's that? And so then I talk about his background as well as his - the policies that he plans on put forth in his administration. It really resonates with a lot of African American voters.

MARTIN: And what about you, Mr. Clyburn? Why do you think your candidate's struggling a bit?

CLYBURN: Well, several reasons. One of the reasons is that Joe started the campaign making it very clear that he would keep his focus on Trump and would not engage in negativity with his fellow Democrats. That, to me, was a plus. But to the public, that didn't show the kind of fight they wanted to see in a candidate. He's not bombastic. That hurt him. It was not until - and I heard people say, well, he finally showed some fight. He just finally attacked somebody, and that's fight. So he suffered from all of that.

MARTIN: Congressman James Clyburn, Walter Clyburn Reed, thank you both so much for talking with us.

CLYBURN REED: Yes, ma'am.

CLYBURN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.