COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jim Clyburn, South Carolina's top Democrat, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president Friday, mending a rift between the two that was much more personal than political.
Clyburn said Friday "my heart has always been with Hillary Clinton," a sharp departure from eight years ago when former President Bill Clinton called him on the phone at 2:15 a.m. after his wife lost the 2008 South Carolina primary against Barack Obama.
"He exploded... and accused me of causing her defeat and injecting race into the contest," Clyburn recalled in his biography, "Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black."
But eight years later, as he backed Hillary Clinton at Allen University in Columbia, Clyburn said that was in the distant past and having been married 54 years, he understood the overwhelming pull for a husband to support his wife.
"I hold no ill will at all about Bill Clinton being active on behalf as his wife. That's how it should be," said Clyburn, first voted to the U.S. House in 1992 and currently South Carolina's only Democratic member of Congress.
Clyburn has never endorsed a candidate before, saying the Democratic National Committee asked him to stay neutral since South Carolina started its primary in 2004 so the races would be competitive for all candidates. But he said Friday he felt it was the right time to break with the committee because his endorsement wasn't going to keep Clinton's rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, from campaigning in South Carolina.
With Clyburn's announcement, Clinton has now picked up 89 more superdelegate endorsements since the New Hampshire primary; Denver city official Anthony Graves also said late this week he will be backing Clinton. Clinton now leads Sanders in the AP delegate count, 483 to 55.
More than half of the expected votes in South Carolina's Feb. 27 primary will be black, and the backing of the man who became South Carolina's first black congressman since Reconstruction in 1993 could be important.
Clyburn said he liked working with Sanders in Congress, especially on Obama's overhaul of the health care system. But he said Hillary Clinton is better equipped to deal with foreign policy as well as education, reforming the criminal justice system and restoring the Voting Rights Act.
Clyburn said he never held Bill Clinton's actions against his wife. The two of them sat together last summer at the funeral for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who police said was killed at the Charleston church he pastored by a man motivated by racial hatred.
But in his book, Clyburn said he hopes people understand he had to back Obama, and it hurt to not be able to do it publically until months later.
"How could I ever look in faces of our children and grandchildren had I not voted for Barack Obama?" said Clyburn.
Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this story from Washington.