Sen. Kamala Harris, whose fight for the Democratic presidential nomination relies heavily on her ability to garner support from African American voters in the South, has nabbed the endorsement of South Carolina’s most well-known grassroots organizers.
The “Reckoning Crew,” a group of 100 predominately black female activists, announced its endorsement of the California Democrat on Thursday. The group, led by Bernice Scott, organizes in the rural part of Richland County, the state’s second biggest county. It backed Hillary Clinton in 2008 over then-Sen. Barack Obama; Obama bested Clinton by more than 25 points. It backed Clinton again in 2016; that time around, the endorsement helped power Clinton to a nearly 50-point victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
In an interview with CNN, Scott, who is the grandmother of Harris’ state political director and a former Richland County Council member, said it’s not just Harris’ identity but also her record that led to the endorsement.
“Not only because she’s a woman and a black woman, but her credentials are very high,” Scott said. “You look at that and figure who can get up and make people proud, and make people whole again. That’s her.”
Locking in the support of one of the first-in-the-South primary state’s most sought-after organizers could help Harris, who trails former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders in recent state polls. Nationally, Harris has settled in the single digits in most polls, putting her in the top five of the 23-person Democratic field.
Harris has invested considerable time and resources in the state, visiting seven times since her January announcement and outpacing her trips to other early-primary states. She, alongside most of her Democratic rivals, is set to return to South Carolina next week for Rep. Jim Clyburn’s famous fish fry and the state’s Democratic convention.
Black voters made up 61% of South Carolina’s Democratic primary electorate in 2016; 37% identified as black women and 89% of them voted for Clinton over Sanders.
For her part, Harris has her own built-in network of black support that rose from her undergraduate years at Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, and sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., whose members she constantly singles out for selfies and makes time for conversation at various campaign events.
Scott said that “black women have been underrated for a long time,” and that they will be decisive in the Democratic primary, which features a record number of female candidates.
“I am tired of men dictating to us what we need to do with our bodies. I’m tired of men speaking for us. I am sick and tired of men who just come up and don’t know anything about a woman,” she said. “I think we’ve had enough men. We’ve had enough men to tell us what to do and we are the ones who do the work. We always have.”
Winning over the Reckoning Crew
During the 2008 and 2016 primaries, members of the Reckoning Crew canvassed door to door on foot, by pickup truck and golf cart, touting Clinton’s message to rural black voters. In 2016, Richland County, where roughly half the population is African American, cast the most votes in the state for Democrats.
Now they’ll do the same for Harris.
Scott first met Harris at a February town hall in in Columbia and said the way Harris presented herself clinched the endorsement.
“The way she shook my hand and talked directly to me,” said Scott, one of the first black elected officials in Richland. “The way she presented herself and handled herself, and talked about the way she was brought up – right there in my mind, I said I was going to support her.”
But the final approval from the Reckoning Crew came last Sunday morning during their weekly meeting, a day after Harris had delivered a forceful defense of her record as a prosecutor. Harris, who served as California’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney, has faced attacks from the left because of it.
“There was some apprehension before that” speech, Brenda Wilson, a 56-year-old member of the Reckoning Crew, said of Harris.
Another member, 64-year-old J. Marie Green from Eastover, South Carolina, echoed that sentiment in an interview with CNN.
“I heard people initially, when they first learned about her, they talked about the fact that she was married to a white man,” said Green, referencing Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff.
But the morning after her speech, Green said all the members were impressed that Harris had stood her ground.
“Everybody was all piped up about her speech. They were really impressed and they felt that it was worth going out there and fighting for,” she said, adding that “our goal is to win South Carolina for Ms. Harris.”
The group, which fits the demographic of the types of voters Harris must win over, has already helped set up the campaign’s South Carolina headquarters and build volunteer efforts.
This latest announcement brings Harris’ Palmetto state endorsements to 14, including pastor and state Sen. Darrell Johnson and former state Reps. Bakari Sellers and Brenda Lee.
Still, Biden has 32 endorsements in the state and leads Harris in polls among African American voters, a gap she must make up to have a strong showing throughout the South and beyond.
Scott insists that Biden’s name recognition in the Palmetto state is “nothing to overcome.”
“People now are looking at substance, they aren’t just looking at name recognition,” Scott said.
CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson contributed to this report.