Tom Steyer with former president of the North Carolina Democratic Party’s African American Caucus Linda Wilkins-Daniels and Johnnie Cordero, president of the Black Caucus of the South Carolina Democratic Party, at the co-moderating the “Conversation with Tom Steyer” event at Clinton College, in Rock Hill, S.C.
Photo: Courtesy of the Tom Steyer Campaign

Tom Steyer, who is making some surprising inroads with African-American voters in South Carolina, has just picked up two more endorsements from powerful members of the state’s Democratic leadership and one more from neighboring North Carolina.

Johnnie Cordero, chairman of the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina, and South Carolina state representative Jerry Govan, chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus, are throwing their support behind the billionaire candidate, Steyer’s campaign told The Root exclusively. The former president of the North Carolina Democratic Party’s African American Caucus, Linda Wilkins-Daniels, is also endorsing Steyer.

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One of the reasons Cordero is backing Steyer is because of his campaign’s commitment to empowering black people with paid positions and what he feels is the candidate’s readiness to tackle tough issues like police brutality.

“What I looked at was really simple: we need to have candidates who come into South Carolina and don’t come in and kiss babies and shake hands and say a couple of words,” Cordero said. “Tom Steyer came into town, he put together his team of people from South Carolina. He didn’t bring people in from outside. They are people we know in the community and he’s spent his money with black businesses. He’s employing black people. That, to me, is significant. You demonstrate how serious you are by how you spend the money. Some candidates have spent 20 and 30 million dollars and want to come to South Carolina and want us to volunteer for everything. Tom Steyer is not like that.”

State Representative Jerry Govan, chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus, at a Tom Steyer campaign event.
Photo: Courtesy of the Tom Steyer Campaign

State Representative Govan told me that while he was drawn to the candidate because of his views on climate change, he and Steyer really bonded over their shared Christian faith when the candidate visited the state last summer. “I at that point thought that his gentleman had a message that needed to be heard,” said Govan, who says he is good friends with Joe Biden and was his 2008 South Carolina presidential campaign co-chair.

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“I don’t think Tom at that time was registering at one percent in terms of any polls. But I thought that he deserved to be heard. So, I did a deep dive in terms of his background in those causes and because we had so much in common, it just took off from there.”

In a statement announcing her endorsement, Wilkins-Daniels stated that Steyer took a position on reparations when former President Barack Obama declined to do so and that he “gets it.”

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“Tom Steyer wouldn’t be the type of president to build walls to keep immigrants out and still exploit them while they’re here. He’s also not beholden to any political action committee, corporation, lobbyist, or large donor—which has been the way of Washington. In fact, Tom Steyer funded many Democratic candidates and causes that were beneficial for mankind. He has shown repeatedly that he sees the dignity and worth of all people regardless of whether a person resides in a penthouse, trailer, homeless shelter, or personal vehicle on the streets.”

Cordero and Govan’s support, which does not reflect the bodies they represent, puts Steyer’s black surrogate number at 13. When Steyer jumped in the race, few people thought he would be one of the few remaining white men in the Caucasian male tsunami of the 2020 Democratic primary field. But a Fox poll has Steyer at second place behind Biden. Of course, being a billionaire helps. He’s spent more money on TV ads than the rest of the other candidates combined if you don’t count Michael Bloomberg, the other billionaire.

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One of the criticisms directed at Steyer has been of his extraordinary wealth and how it allows political novices to spend money on ads that keep him on voters’ radars in ways Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro could not.

Govan said Steyer’s wealth should not be held against him. If anything, he should be praised as one of the billionaires who have pledged to give his money to charity and that he has contributed to very worthy causes over the years.

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“Are we going to continuously penalize people for being successful in this country?” Govan asked. “I should hope not.”

Everyone who made predictions on which candidates would still be in the race at this point are as accurate as most people who fill out a March Madness bracket. While few people expected Steyer to be in the race at this point, it is notable that he is gaining the traction he is enjoying—even with his billions.

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We’ll see how much his presence means for what will be a very interesting Democratic primary.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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