CHARLOTTE — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn is in demand at the Democratic National Convention here this week.
The Columbia Democrat is cutting the ribbon for a playground at a children’s hospital and speaking on an energy panel. He is talking to student groups, lunch groups, television audiences and delegations from states hundreds of miles from his S.C. home.
Tonight at 8:30, Clyburn will help open the Democratic National Convention — the only Palmetto State Democrat to speak during the convention’s opening night. The only Democrat to hold statewide or congressional office, Clyburn is the state party’s national face.
“He is moving and grooving for South Carolina and other states,” S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian said. “He has tried to excite the troops and put money into the effort.”
Harpootlian said he has honed his own message about the President Obama’s health-care plan with the help of Clyburn, the third-highest-ranking Democrat in Congress, where he helped sculpt the plan.
Clyburn has helped carve a national niche for South Carolina at the convention. State delegates were invited to a welcoming reception at the NASCAR Hall of Fame presented by the convention hosting committee, including Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, called Clyburn a mentor while introducing him from a balcony at the museum.
“If had to pick someone who I would like to emulate as a leader, as a voice for the middle class and for working families, as a voice for people who have no voice, someone who has earned the respect of millions of Americans … it’s Jim Clyburn,” Wasserman Schultz told the delegates from six Southern states.
Clyburn is heading for his 11th term in Congress, representing a “safe” Democratic seat from that includes parts of the Midlands, Lowcountry and Pee Dee. But his chief job this week is energizing the party’s base.
“People need to listen to him. He has a fabulous message,” said Sally Howard, a convention delegate from Horry County. “The more people you motivate and excite at a convention, they will do that with many more back home.”
Harpootlian said Clyburn is supporting efforts to have S.C. Democrats donate three to four hours of time each to volunteer in North Carolina — a swing state for incumbent President Barack Obama in his race against Republican Mitt Romney.
“If we win North Carolina, we win,” Harpootlian said.
During his six-minute speech at the convention tonight, Clyburn plans to tell the country that “President Obama has kept the faith of the American people.”
“I wish that our Republican colleagues had done the same,” Clyburn told reporters Monday.
This week, Clyburn is scheduled to be interviewed by NBC, CNN, MSNBC (twice) and NPR. The Virginia and Indiana delegations have invited Clyburn to speak to their breakfast meetings. He was honored Monday night during a “Salute to South Carolina,” sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Clyburn also has been called upon to help clean up Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s mess, when the Democrat answered “no” on Sunday when asked if Americans are better off today than they were four years ago — a stumble that Republicans have tried to exploit, the week after their national convention.
“I think the governor was trying not to be too boastful,” Clyburn said, before doing some boasting of his own.
He touted the 29 consecutive months of U.S. private-sector job growth during Obama’s presidency. He said that was a long way from 2008, when Clyburn said he was in the room when then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told congressional leaders the stock market was on the verge of collapsing and creating another Great Depression.
“Ask anybody to look at where we are today, look at where we were four years ago this month, and not say that we are no better off — they are just smoking something,” he said.
While Clyburn is working mostly these days on keeping Obama in the White House, Harpootlian said he thinks the assistant Democratic whip of the U.S. House also can help in South Carolina, a state that Republicans have dominated for the past decade.
“We have to keep asking (voters), ‘Are you happy where you are?’ ” Harpootlian said.