A year ago, Clyburn became the first African-American raised in the segregated South to become majority whip, the third-highest position in the House. But what’s most unusual about this minister’s son is his ability to pull others along with him: blacks, rural whites, Hispanics and a faith community still distrustful of many Democrats.
At Clyburn’s instigation, white, Southern “Blue Dog” Democrats have begun to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. Jews, Muslims and multiple Christian denominations were all part of a Democratic Faith Working Group meeting on poverty that he helped sponsor last week. And this is a man whose ties to the Latino community go back to the late ’60s, when Clyburn ran an anti-poverty commission that assisted Mexican migrant farm workers moving up the “Texas stream” through South Carolina.
These skills aren’t lost on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, which knows it can’t win in November without the same constituencies.
“He’s the real deal,” says Valerie Jarrett, a top Obama confidante who has learned to rely on Clyburn. “He doesn’t mince words. You know exactly where you stand when you talk to him, and I’m grateful for that. He chooses his words carefully and is refreshingly confident.”
Obama, in a statement for this article, described Clyburn as a friend and “one of a handful of people who, when they speak, the entire Congress listens.”