COLUMBIA, S.C. - Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer has hired one of South Carolina's most influential black lawmakers as an adviser to his campaign as the billionaire businessman tries to make inroads in a state where black voters will play a dominant role in the Feb. 29 primary.
Steyer's campaign told The Associated Press on Wednesday that state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter has signed on as a senior national adviser. Cobb-Hunter, who first took office in 1992, is the longest serving member of the South Carolina House and is the current president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
Cobb-Hunter has made a point in the past to note that she chooses not to endorse candidates during primaries. In an announcement of her hire, Cobb-Hunter said climate activist Steyer had the broadest appeal to voters across the country.
"Steyer is building the most racially diverse coalition of voters who look like America as it is today," Cobb-Hunter said. "He is the only candidate who walks the walk and talks the talk."
The move is part of Steyer's effort to build among black leaders in South Carolina, where rivals Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders already have gained the support of members of the legislative black caucus.
Steyer has been vocal about his outreach to South Carolina's black voters, who account for the majority of the Democratic electorate.
Along with seven other Democratic hopefuls, he participated in a march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and spoke at a Statehouse rally. Before that commemoration, he had spent several days campaigning in the state, notably speaking at an NAACP rally at South Carolina State University.
Last fall, he was one of just a handful of candidates to speak at a cook-off in Orangeburg long known as a staple for presidential candidates. A month later, he was at South Carolina State University to take part in an environmental forum coordinated by Cobb-Hunter. In December, there was a roundtable on issues important to black men. He also released a plan for historically black colleges and universities and participated in a black women's issues forum.
Cobb-Hunter's move aligns her with a fellow House member, with whom she has fueded in the past, Jerry Govan, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and early Steyer backer. In 2018, a jury found Govan not guilty of assault in a confrontation with Cobb-Hunter. She testified that Govan grabbed her arm and twisted her wrist during a 2017 argument over a school consolidation bill.
Govan said he was acting defensively after Cobb-Hunter pushed paper in his face. A legislative investigation found both lawmakers equally at fault.
Both Govan and Cobb Hunter are veteran lawmakers representing parts of Orangeburg County, home to two HBCUs and an area frequently visited by candidates.