COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Black lawmakers in South Carolina are calling on former Vice President Joe Biden to disavow statements from a longtime friend and campaign surrogate that they say are racist.
About half of the 45-member Legislative Black Caucus held a news conference on Wednesday, February 5, blasting Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian for remarks they contend insinuated that their group’s chairman had been bought by Biden rival Tom Steyer because he was paid for his work for Steyer’s campaign. They said Biden, who is running for president and is a top contender in the upcoming South Carolina primary, should distance himself from Harpootlian following the comments.
“We ask that he do it publicly, and that he do it now,” House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said. “His refusal to do so will not go over well in the black community, and it certainly will not go over well with members of the Black Caucus that are standing behind me.”
Harpootlian denies that his comments were racially motivated. Biden spokeswoman Paige Hill said Wednesday that Harpootlian “does not speak for the Biden campaign.”
The fight broke out just over three weeks before South Carolina’s presidential primary, the first voting contest in the South. The majority of South Carolina’s Democratic voting electorate is black, a demographic that overwhelmingly supports Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential race. Biden is working to find his footing after a struggling showing in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses on Monday.
Harpootlian tweeted earlier on February 5 about Federal Election Commission filings showing Black Caucus Chairman Jerry Govan receiving “almost $50,000” from Steyer’s campaign in just more than a month’s time and called the billionaire Steyer “Mr. Money Bags.”