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New York Times
29 Apr 2023

NextImg:South Carolina Democrats Elect First Black Woman to Run State Party

The News

South Carolina Democrats elected Christale Spain, the former executive director of the state Democratic Party, as state party chair at their convention on Saturday. She ran with the backing of the party’s top brass, including Representative James E. Clyburn, and will be the first Black woman to lead the state party.

ImageChristale Spain dabs at her eyes with a tissue as State Senator Gerald Malloy looks on, smiling, at the party convention.
Christale Spain, who was elected Saturday as chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, was backed by the party establishment.Credit...Sean Rayford for The New York Times

Why It Matters: Clyburn and Old Guard Still Rule

A longtime organizer in Palmetto State politics, Ms. Spain was widely considered the front-runner in the race, a usually sleepy contest that saw more candidates run than it has in more than 25 years. Her biggest competitor, Brandon Upson, the state Black caucus chair, painted her as an establishment candidate whose connections to the old guard would stymie the party’s progress in an all-important election year.

Democrats who supported Mr. Upson were seeking to overhaul a state party they felt had long been dominated by Mr. Clyburn — who helped President Biden win the state primary in 2020 — ahead of South Carolina’s debut as the party’s first presidential primary state in 2024 and in the wake of a down cycle in the 2022 midterm elections.

Still, it was Ms. Spain’s connections, paired with her campaign strategy — characterized by social media blasts and regular visits to county party meetings and cattle calls — that ultimately delivered her the victory. She won with the support of nearly 700 of the party’s roughly 1,000 state delegates in a standing vote. Before delegates for Mr. Upson could stand up to vote for him, he conceded to Ms. Spain in a short speech calling for party unity.

What’s Next: Primary Prep and Party Repair

As the next chair, Ms. Spain will be responsible for preparing the state party for its moment in prime time: voting first in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary election. She will also have to rebuild a party in turmoil. Democrats lost several safe State House and Senate seats and had low voter turnout during the 2022 midterms, a year that was otherwise considered positive for the party nationally. Ms. Spain’s leadership will offer Palmetto State Democrats a chance to make up those losses and get ready for the national stage.

In a news conference after her victory, Ms. Spain offered a message to the South Carolina voters waiting for more meaningful change from the Democratic Party.

“Wait no longer,” she said, vowing to focus on year-round voter engagement efforts. “We know who our voters are. We’re going back after them and we’re going to turn them out, plus more.”