Washington (CNN)South Carolina Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn's annual "World Famous Fish Fry" is typically known for its fried fish on white bread and Palmetto State politics, but national and congressional observers will also be keeping a close eye on Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.
Democrat who challenged Pelosi speaking at Clyburn's fish fry
Ryan, who is the keynote speaker at the separate Blue Palmetto Dinner before heading up the street to address the fish fry, is significant given his public calls for changes in leadership in his party. In 2016, Ryan ran against Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for her position leading the party in the chamber. While he only received 63 votes to Pelosi's 134, he began a movement of calling for new faces to replace the older members of the leadership including Pelosi, Rep. Joe Crowley -- and Clyburn.
When asked about his relationship with Ryan after the 2016 leadership election, Clyburn said he respected the young congressman from Ohio's platform and admires his passion for injecting youth into the House Democratic Caucus.
"I was young once myself," Clyburn told CNN. "I say all the time that we need to have young people and we need to have older people. We need to have strength and we need to have experience."
Ryan echoed Clyburn's sentiment of admiration. He said the congressman from South Carolina has long been a mentor and friend since Clyburn welcomed him to Congress and had him and fellow newcomer former Rep. Kendrick Meek escort him to his swearing in as vice chair of the Democratic Caucus back in 2003.
"He totally gets it. His political skills and his intellect are as good as it gets in the party. I rely on that a lot and have a real friendship with him," Ryan said of Clyburn in an interview with CNN. "He's so skilled and he understands the entire country. He understands urban America, rural America. He understands that a lot of the problems these communities face are the same."
Ryan plans on discussing a platform that Democrats need to embrace as their agenda going forward, highlighting economic issues some critics have previously accused Democrats of putting on a back-burner over cultural issues.
"I'm going to try to communicate to everyone exactly how fierce of a global competition we're in economically, militarily, and really culturally. Not just here in the US but around the world," Ryan said. "Democrats need to have an agenda that Americans will trust us to lead in this competition. That means that we need everybody in the country healthy, skilled and ready to compete."
What started as Clyburn just offering hot fish to his loyal campaign workers from around the state who come to the capital city for the annual convention has turned into a yearly can't-miss event for politicos. Clyburn said thousands of local Democrats will turn out this year to what is considered one of the paramount events on the Democratic circuit. Prospective and announced candidates know it is an important place to court voters in a crucial early primary state.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Maryland Rep. John Delaney have all told Clyburn to expect them on stage at the fish fry.
Among the other speakers at the events, Delaney has already announced his 2020 presidential campaign and both Merkley and Ryan are among the many considered to be prospective Democratic candidates for president next cycle. All three of these current members of Congress have been making stops in early primary states including Iowa and New Hampshire, and now they're making another stop in first-in-the-south South Carolina.
When asked by CNN if he will run for president in 2020, Ryan did not say no. Instead, he deflected and said he's focused on helping elect Democrats in 2018, specifically in districts like his who were unsatisfied and voted for Republican President Donald Trump in 2016.