For the first time in the state’s history, the South Carolina Democratic Party will be led by a Black woman. Christale Spain, a longtime Democratic Party leader and organizer and an ally of longtime SC Rep. Jim Clyburn, takes over leadership of the party in South Carolina just as the state becomes more prominent than ever in the presidential election cycle.
Spain was elected as Chairperson of the South Carolina Democratic Party on Saturday as part of the party’s state convention, winning a commanding victory against two opponents. Spain won with the support of prominent Democrats such as Clyburn, in whose office she worked for two years. She has also worked to mobilize Black voters in the state through a variety of outreach initiatives. Spain is additionally connected to other influential figures in Washington. She served as the South Carolina state director for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, and played the same role for Cory Booker’s presidential campaign in 2020. One of Booker’s top aides recently called Spain “one of the most talented political operatives in the country.”
Spain is becoming the leader of the South Carolina Democrats just as the state continues to play a huge role in the party’s presidential race. During the primary season for the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden stakes his fortunes on winning South Carolina, then the fourth Democratic primary contest, after being defeated by Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary as well as the Iowa and Nevada caucuses. Biden, who also fell behind candidates like progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren and Millennial Pete Buttigieg, counted on the older, largely Black Democratic electorate in South Carolina to vote for him as a more establishment candidate; Clyburn backed this move, and Biden easily won South Carolina. Spain is largely backed by this same establishment, which her opponent Brandon Upson, unsuccessfully tried to use against her by arguing that the state needed new blood leading its Democratic Party. After Spain won, however, Upson urged unity in the party and for SC Democrats to focus on defeating Republicans.
As President, Biden has supported moving up the South Carolina Democratic primary, which will now be the first Democratic presidential race beginning in 2024. This solidifies the state’s importance in Democratic politics. Additionally, Spain’s new position puts her amongst several SC politicians who have gained growing importance in recent years. SC Democrat Jaime Harrison, a former party chairperson in the state, ran a strong campaign against incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham in 2020, and Harrison was later appointed chairperson of the Democratic National Committee. On the other side of the aisle, two South Carolina Republicans will likely compete to win the GOP presidential nomination: former Governor Nikki Haley, who launched her campaign earlier this year, and Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the US Senate, who is expected to announce a presidential campaign later this year.
With South Carolina’s new place as the first Democratic contest of 2024 and its role as home to several key players in the upcoming election, the state will be an extremely important part of the presidential race for both parties. Spain therefore has her work cut out for her guiding her state’s Democratic Party during thse important times, but her connections and support suggest she will hit the ground running in her new role.