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Clyburn backs ex-staffer to lead South Carolina Democrats

FILE - Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., speaks during the Democratic National Committee Winter Meeting, Feb. 4, 2023, in Philadelphia. Clyburn is backing a former staffer in her effort to lead South Carolina's Democrats, as the state prepares to host in 2024 the party's opening presidential primary. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
Matt Rourke/AP
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AP
FILE - Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., speaks during the Democratic National Committee Winter Meeting, Feb. 4, 2023, in Philadelphia. Clyburn is backing a former staffer in her effort to lead South Carolina's Democrats, as the state prepares to host in 2024 the party's opening presidential primary. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Rep. Jim Clyburn, whose last-minute endorsement helped propel Joe Biden's 2020 White House campaign, is backing a former staffer in her effort to lead South Carolina's Democrats, as the state prepares to host the party's opening presidential primary in 2024.

In a statement provided to The Associated Press ahead of an official announcement Wednesday, Clyburn said Christale Spain "represents the battle-tested, steady leadership the South Carolina Democratic Party needs as the national party turns to us to kick-off the nomination process."

Democrats in South Carolina select their next chair later this month. The open contest was set into motion after current Chairman Trav Robertson opted not to seek another term and threw his support behind Spain.

Becoming executive director of the state party in 2016, Spain worked as political director for Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign and served as Sen. Cory Booker's state director for his 2020 White House bid. For two years, she worked for Clyburn's district office, focusing on constituent service and outreach.

Spain also founded 46 Hope Road, a political action committee aimed at energizing voters who had been inactive since Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and worked on Black voter engagement for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2022 midterms.

While the party's national prominence has risen — most recently when the Democratic National Committee made South Carolina the first voting state on its 2024 presidential primary calendar — South Carolina's Democrats have struggled to notch electoral wins at many levels of office.

Winless in statewide elections since 2006, Democrats hold only one of the state's seven U.S. House seats. The party last won a U.S. Senate race in 1998, and Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election.

There have been some successes. In 2018, Joe Cunningham became the first Democrat to flip a House seat from red to blue in South Carolina in decades, though he lost his reelection bid two years later.

Two other people are vying for the chairmanship. Brandon Upson, a progressive Democrat who chairs the state party's Black Caucus, advised Tom Steyer's 2020 presidential campaign in South Carolina. Since then, Upson founded Amplify Action, a national voter registration and mobilization effort.

Catherine Fleming Bruce, an author who unsuccessfully sought Democrats' 2022 nomination against Republican Sen. Tim Scott, also has launched a bid.

If elected, Spain would be the first Black woman to lead Democrats in South Carolina, where Black women are major drivers of the Democratic electorate.

Spain told the AP she appreciated Clyburn's endorsement and would work toward "leveraging our First in the Nation status and my own relationships in Washington to bring the necessary resources to the Palmetto State to build the Democratic infrastructure needed to win seats up and down the ballot."

Gearing up for the 2024 presidential primary is top on the party's agenda. Biden, expected to officially launch his reelection bid later this year, pushed to move the state where he won big in 2020 to the top of the nominating calendar.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.