How Emily Clyburn Started Biden’s Roll to the White House


September 22, 2009 – Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) speaking at the Center for American Progress (Photo by Center for American Progress | Flickr)

September 22, 2009 – Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) speaking at the Center for American Progress (Photo by Center for American Progress | Flickr)

Take a moment to remember the Democratic Primary in the 2020 Presidential Election. It is February 2020, and all the momentum was in favor of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The most recent Quinnipiac poll had Sen. Sanders clocking in with 25% support from Dem. Primary voters – eight percentage points ahead of Joe Biden, the runner-up. But then, in the last primary before Super Tuesday, Biden won South Carolina primary, and in short order, the rest of the Democratic primary field rushed to support him. After months of campaigning, Biden became the Democratic nominee within days.

Many political observers have wondered how Joe Biden was able to break through the Democratic Presidential primaries in 2020 after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary. Some have speculated that perhaps former President Barack Obama intervened behind the scenes and made phone calls for his former VP, urging the other democratic hopefuls to get out.

But in truth, it was South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn that turned the tide for Biden. Clyburn, the Democrat’s House Majority Whip as well as its highest-ranking African American in the house, was known among politicos as the go-to power broker of South Carolina politics. An MSNBC exit-poll at the time said that 47% of South Carolina primary voters said that Clyburn’s endorsement was an important factor in their decision.

So, Jim Clyburn convinced the country, but who convinced Clyburn? In a recent interview with SiriusXM talk show host Michael Smerconish, Clyburn explained that it was his wife, Emily Clyburn, who started the momentum for Joe Biden to become the Democratic nominee, and eventually the 46th President of the United States.

In September of 2019, Clyburn lost his wife Emily after a long battle with diabetes. Joe Biden came to the funeral and offered some comfort to his old friend. In his interview with Smerconish, Clyburn explained what his wife had told him regarding the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary.  

“I give credit to my late wife. At our annual fish fry in 2019 we had over 20 presidential candidates. That night after the fish fry after I sat with my wife, who was ailing from diabetes at the time, and started sharing what had happened… I said, we are going to have a tough time this year. We have over 20 candidates running for President. Some are my friends, it’s going to be tough. She said, I don’t care how tough it’s going to be. If we really want to win, we better endorse Joe Biden.”

Emily Clyburn passed on September 19, four months before the South Carolina primary. As Jim Clyburn told Smerconish, he later attended a funeral and ran into a lady who asked who he was going to vote for and voiced her support for Joe Biden. He said this conversation – along with conversations with African American women, in particular – sealed his choice for Biden.

Clyburn publicly endorsed Biden on Feb. 26, 2020, and Biden won the South Carolina Democratic Primary soon after with 48.7% of the vote. Biden went on to a massive win on Super Tuesday, and kickstarted his historic run for the presidency. It all started with Emily Clyburn.


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