COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Hillary Clinton's campaign scored a major endorsement Friday when Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives and the unofficial dean of South Carolina's Democratic Party, endorsed Clinton's presidential campaign.
At a press conference at Allen University on Friday, Clyburn spoke highly of both Clinton and Sanders, but said Clinton was best suited to handle a number of issues, including student loans, income inequality and gender discrimination.
"I believe the future of the Democratic Party and the United States will be best served by the expertise and know how of Hillary Clinton," Clyburn said.
Clyburn also addressed issues of particular importance to the African-American community, including criminal justice reform, restoration of the Voting Rights Act and increasing access to historically black colleges and universities.
Clinton, Clyburn said, is the "best choice to conquer these challenges."
Clyburn, who has previously served as House Majority Whip and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is a deeply revered figure among the state's black community.
In addition to serving 12 terms in Congress, Clyburn began his political career as a civil rights activist in the state, leading his local NAACP chapter at the age of 12 and playing a central role organizing against the state's Jim Crow laws while studying at South Carolina State College, a historically black institution.
The endorsement, first reported by The State Thursday night, comes at a crucial juncture for the Clinton campaign. Democratic voters are set to caucus on Saturday in Nevada, where a sizable number of the party's caucusgoers are African-American. Moreover, it comes just over a week before Democratic voters cast their primary ballots in South Carolina, a majority of whose Democratic voters are African-American.
Clinton has enjoyed sizable leads in recent Palmetto State polls, and as such cannot afford to win by a slim margin. A Clyburn endorsement goes a long way in padding Clinton's margins here.
Clyburn's endorsement also helps Clinton's attempts to maintain her support among African-Americans nationwide. Her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has been trying to chip away at Clinton's standing with that constituency, racking up the endorsements of numerous progressive African-American figures, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, whose death at the hands of several New York Police Department officers was caught on tape.
Clyburn's endorsement is a significant victory for Clinton, who has been working to mend relations with the congressman since the 2008 cycle. During a campaign stop in Aiken, South Carolina, on Tuesday, Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, praised Clyburn for his work on behalf of the state and endorsed one of his policy proposals to combat poverty.
Clyburn was neutral in 2008, but he frequently criticized Hillary Clinton's campaign conduct in the state. In his 2014 memoir, Clyburn revealed that Bill Clinton called him up at 2 a.m. after the state's primary and blamed him for his wife's loss.
"If you bastards want a fight, you damn well will get one," Clinton reportedly yelled.
Clyburn wrote that he reminded the former president he was neutral, but the former president still "accused me of causing her defeat and injecting race into the contest."
The congressman said Friday that his head was telling him to remain neutral in this cycle once again, but he decided to go with his heart and endorse Clinton.