The South Carolina Democratic Party elected Christelle Spain, former executive director of the state Democratic Party, as state leader at Saturday’s convention. She ran for office with the support of party leaders, including Rep. James E. Cliburn, and became the first black woman to lead a state party.
Why it matters: Clyburn and the Old Guard still dominate
A longtime organizer of Palmetto state politics, Ms. Spain was widely considered to be the frontrunner in the election campaign. More candidates have run for office in the last 25+ yearsHer biggest competitor, the state’s black caucus chairman, Brandon Upson, painted her as an established candidate.
Democrats backing Upson have long had Cliburn, who helped President Biden win the state primary in 2020, before South Carolina debuted in the party’s first presidential primary in 2024. He was seeking a reconsideration of the state parties he felt had ruled for so long. In the wake of his cycle down in the 2022 midterm elections.
Still, it was Ms. Spain’s connections, combined with an explosion of social media and her campaign strategy marked by regular visits to county party conventions and cattle phone calls, that ultimately gave her the win. She won the standing ballot with the support of nearly 700 of the party’s nearly 1,000 state delegates. Before Mr. Upson’s delegates rose to vote for him, he conceded to Mr. Spain with a brief speech calling for party unity.
Next steps: primary prep and party repair
As incoming Speaker, Ms. Spain is responsible for preparing state parties for their prime moment of being the first to vote in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary. She also has to rebuild the party in chaos. Democrats lost several safe state legislative and Senate seats and had low voter turnout in the 2022 midterm elections. Spain’s leadership offers Palmetto Democrats an opportunity to make up for these losses and set themselves up for the national stage.
At a post-win press conference, Ms Spain delivered a message to South Carolina voters waiting for more meaningful change from the Democratic Party.
“We don’t have to wait any longer,” she said, pledging to focus on voter engagement efforts throughout the year. Get them out and do more.”