South Carolina Democratic Party’s first Black female chairperson looks ahead to 2024

“There is a path to victory for South Carolina Democrats." — SCDP Chairwoman Christale Spain.

As the 2024 presidential election nears, all eyes will be on South Carolina as new Democratic leadership takes the reigns in hopes of changing the political landscape in the deep-red southern state.  

Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee — at the request of President Joe Biden — selected the Palmetto State as the first primary state in the presidential cycle, giving South Carolina Democrats a newfound place in the spotlight.

Biden’s move is largely seen as a nod of thanks to South Carolina voters — particularly Black voters — who made his 2020 primary win and subsequent defeat of former President Donald Trump possible.  

Christale Spain gives her speech as a candidate for chair of the South Democratic Party during the party’s convention on April 29, 2023 in Columbia, South Carolina. Spain was elected as the first Black woman to lead the state party. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

The party recently elected its new chairperson — Christale Spain — who became the first Black woman to lead the South Carolina Democratic Party.

In a recent interview with theGrio, Spain said “it means a lot” to lead her party in such a history-making way. “I truly do love our party and I’m ready to really work to do the things that I know we need to be doing to be successful because there is a path to victory for South Carolina Democrats,” she declared.

The first order of business for South Carolina Democrats will be shoring up support for Biden for the primary election in February. So far, the president faces two Democratic challengers — Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — but Biden is almost sure to become the Democratic Party’s 2024 nominee. 

Spain will then have to lead her party in aiding Biden’s reelection campaign in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat for president since President Jimmy Carter in 1976. She told theGrio that Democrats will have to engage voters year-round.

“We’re doing the work to strengthen our 46 counties … and prioritizing our rural counties because a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work — every county isn’t Charleston,” explained Spain, who has worked on several presidential campaigns and worked as a senior advisor at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

She continued, “We can’t wait until August and September to try to engage Black voters — or engage voters period — and think they’re going to be mobilized or are moved to go and vote in huge numbers in November.”

Beyond the presidential election, there must be an emphasis on recruiting stronger candidates down the ballot for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the new party chair said.

Supporters of then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden rally ahead of the Democratic presidential debate on Feb. 25, 2020 outside of the Charleston Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Currently, the lone Democrat in South Carolina’s congressional delegation is U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who has represented the 6th Congressional District for the past 30 years.

No Democrat has held a U.S. Senate seat since 2005, and, aside from Clyburn, of the seven congressional districts, there hasn’t been a Democrat in a House seat in more than a decade — aside from former U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham’s one term (2019-2021). 

A recent ProPublica report suggested that Clyburn’s influence in the congressional boundaries of his district in a 2021 redrawn map played a role in creating a near-impossible path to victory for Democrats outside of his 6th Congressional District. The veteran lawmaker denied that his engagement with Republicans in the state legislature over his district had any bearing on the GOP’s map, which a court ruled was racially gerrymandered.

A spokesperson for Congressional Black Caucus PAC, the political arm of the CBC on Capitol Hil, rejected the notion that Clyburn or his office aided Republicans in drawing a gerrymandered map. The official dismissed it as “dubious and implausible.”

“That was clearly their plan all along,” said the CBCPAC spokesperson. “Congressman Clyburn has been at the wrestling mat for democracy and justice his entire time in public service. He’s voted multiple times in Congress to require fair maps across the country.”

In any case, Spain acknowledged that Democrats have to run a “strong candidate recruitment and training program” if they want to see success on the ballot in future elections.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., gives a speech nominating Christale Spain to serve as the next chair of the South Democratic Party during the party’s convention on April 29, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

Jaime Harrison’s campaign for the U.S. Senate, which broke fundraising records, helped mobilize a historic number of Democratic voters in 2020 (nearly 1.1 million), noted Spain. “We’re going to take this opportunity and leverage it,” she said.

The near successes of 2020 may explain why Harrison is now the chairman of the DNC and Clyburn remains a close confidant of Biden, including serving in a leadership role in his reelection campaign. Spain’s election as state party chair became an additional footnote to what she says “demonstrates the diversity and strength of the South Carolina Democratic Party.”

Pulling out a win in 2024 will require Democrats to drive home a winning message that the policies of Biden and Democrats are what’s best for voters in South Carolina. Spain said she looks forward to making that case on behalf of her party.

“Democrats are always on the right side of these policies and agendas and Republicans do everything they can to distract folks from the things that we know they’re trying to do,” said Spain. “They’re trying to rip away Social Security and Medicare … they’re trying to ban abortions.”

She added, “The coalition-building helps to demonstrate that voters are paying attention and they’re not going to be distracted.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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