(Reuters) - The co-chair of South Carolina’s caucus for African-American women endorsed billionaire U.S. presidential candidate Tom Steyer on Sunday, helpful backing in the first state to vote in which most Democrats are black.
“This is a crucial election and black women need a candidate who’s going to champion our policies” from housing to reproductive rights and entrepreneurship, Mattie Thomas, co-chair of the Black Women’s Caucus of South Carolina, told Reuters.
Thomas later clarified that her endorsement is personal and not on behalf of her group, as it had originally been characterized.
South Carolina, where two-thirds of the Democratic electorate is black, comes fourth, on Feb. 29, in the state-by-state process of picking a Democratic nominee to face Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election. The first nominating contest is on Monday in Iowa.
Public-opinion polling once showed former Vice President Joe Biden with a more than 30 percentage point lead in South Carolina, which he is counting on to cement his standing in a competitive race.
But Steyer, who polls in single digits nationally, has been gaining on Biden there. A Post and Courier-Change Research poll released on Sunday showed here Biden at 25%, Senator Bernie Sanders at 20% and Steyer at 18%, up from 5% in December.
Steyer has hired more staff, appeared at more events and spent more money on advertisements in South Carolina than Biden.
Biden’s highest-polling opponents nationally, Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have put more emphasis on the first two states to hold nominating contests, Iowa and New Hampshire.
Thomas said the decision between Steyer and Biden was a bit of a “toss-up” but that the ex-businessman, “has his own record whereas Joe Biden is a part of the record” of the first black president, Barack Obama, whom he served as deputy.
There are no longer any black candidates among the leaders in the Democratic field, after prominent candidates including Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris dropped out.
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Dubuque, Iowa; Editing by Peter Graff and Chris Reese