Magazine article Newsweek

The Southern Man to See; after New Hampshire, All Roads Lead to a Sprightly 63-Year-Old Congressman Whose Voice Carries a Long Way in Dixie

Magazine article Newsweek

The Southern Man to See; after New Hampshire, All Roads Lead to a Sprightly 63-Year-Old Congressman Whose Voice Carries a Long Way in Dixie

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Wolffe

In South Carolina, they call him their third senator, but the way the presidential candidates are courting him, he might as well be king. It's not just his distinguished presence--his salt-and-pepper hair or his years in state and federal government--that places James Clyburn on a political pedestal. He's the most senior African-American politician in a state where about half the Democratic-primary voters are minorities. For the six white Democratic hopefuls, facing their first Southern test next week, Clyburn is far more than the U.S. representative for the Sixth Congressional District. He's the guy whose ring you've got to kiss in South Carolina.

For the moment, Clyburn says he's "chilling out," spending the weekend with his wife, Emily, at their lakeside vacation home in Santee. His first choice for the party's presidential candidate was his old friend and mentor Dick Gephardt, whose economic message resonated in a state that has lost jobs for the past three years in a row. Within 48 hours of Gephardt's withdrawal, six of the seven surviving candidates called the sprightly 63-year-old Clyburn to seek his support. Yet, as Clyburn readily admits, even he can't deliver Democratic votes on his own. "I have said from day one: I got 67 percent of the vote when I ran for re-election," he told NEWSWEEK. "That means 33 percent of the people in my district wouldn't listen to me."

Such modesty means little to the presidential campaigns that are facing critical tests in next week's vote. A block away from Clyburn's offices in downtown Columbia, the Kerry campaign tried to resuscitate its lifeless organization with the endorsement of the state's most senior Democrat: the irrepressible 82-year-old Sen. Fritz Hollings. Yet Hollings's support is no substitute for Kerry's own people. Callers to Kerry's South Carolina headquarters are greeted with a voice-mail saying, "Don't forget to RSVP the September 12th fund-raiser"--the last time Kerry visited the state. …

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