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Sanders Scores Major Endorsement in South Carolina After Lawmaker Dumps Clinton

Justin T. Bamberg, a prominent African-American civil rights attorney and lawmaker, has switched his allegiance ahead of South Carolina's key primary.
January 25, 2016, 9:20pm
Photo by Stephen B. Morton/AP

Justin T. Bamberg, a prominent African-American lawyer and lawmaker in South Carolina, has changed his mind about who should be the next president of the United States. After initially endorsing Hillary Clinton, Bamberg is now throwing his support behind Bernie Sanders.

At press conference organized by the Sanders campaign on Monday, Bamberg said he hadn't given the Vermont senator a "fair shake."

Bamberg is a high-profile civil rights attorney who represents the family of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot in the back last year while fleeing a white South Carolina police officer. Bamberg is also leading Democrat in the South Carolina state legislature.


As recently as December, Bamberg spoke glowingly of Clinton. He predicted she would easily win the presidential race, and praised her support for criminal justice reform. "I believe that President Clinton — I say president because I believe she will be the next president of the US — can effectively tackle these issues," Bamberg told CNN last month.

Related: Here's What's at Stake for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in South Carolina

Bamberg told reporters on Monday that he had a change of heart after watching Sanders and Clinton campaign. "Hillary Clinton is more a representation of the status quo when I think about politics or about what it means to be a Democrat," he said. "Bernie Sanders on the other hand is bold. He doesn't think like everyone else. He is not afraid to call things as they are."

Sanders ultimately convinced Bamberg to change his mind after the two had a long conversation about the Walter Scott case on Martin Luther King Jr. Day last week. "What I got from him was not a presidential candidate talking to a state representative, or an old white man talking to a young black guy," Bamberg said. "What I got from him was a man talking to a man about things that they are passionate about, and that was the tipping point for me."

'He doesn't think like everyone else. He is not afraid to call things as they are.'

South Carolina holds its primary on February 27, a vote that is the first test for presidential candidates in the South. Clinton has held a commanding lead in the state — even as Sanders appears poised to perform well in the early voting in Iowa and New Hampshire.

On Monday, the Sanders campaign billed the endorsement from Bamberg as the start of a surge in South Carolina, citing recent polling that shows the Vermont senator steadily gaining ground against Clinton. "In October, polls had us 60 points down. As we have progressed over the last few months, recent polls have us 22 points away from the leader of this race," said Chris Covert, Sanders' campaign director in South Carolina, referring to a new CBS News poll released on Sunday.

Covert praised Bamberg, calling him "one of the biggest up-and-coming names in the Democratic party." The endorsement, he said, would signal to other South Carolina lawmakers that Sanders is worth seriously considering.

So far, Clinton has lined up a who's who of South Carolina endorsements, including two former governors, and about two dozen prominent African American lawmakers. Sanders has been endorsed by the South Carolina AFL-CIO union and three African-American state legislators.


Over the weekend, Sanders told CBS that his campaign was playing to win in South Carolina. "I feel confident that if we can win here in Iowa, if we can win in New Hampshire and those are going to be tough races, I think we stand an excellent chance to win in South Carolina and in Nevada," he said.

Related: Road-Tripping to South Carolina With the 'New' KKK

Though Clinton still has a commanding lead over Sanders in South Carolina, Sanders has been climbing steadily.

According to polling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics, Clinton has 62 percent support in the state, the same as when the first polls were taken in May 2015. Sanders, on the other hand, has climbed from around 5 percent to 30 percent in the same period.

Follow Avi Asher-Schapiro on Twitter: @AASchapiro