MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Back here in South Carolina, Gilda Cobb-Hunter's endorsement has been sought after for years. She's the longest-serving member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and the current president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. She was first elected in 1992, and she says she's always made a point of not endorsing primary candidates until this year. We met with her in her office earlier this week, and she told us why she broke her own rule and joined Tom Steiner's campaign as a paid adviser.
GILDA COBB-HUNTER: The difference this time for me was back in 2016, when people decided that it made sense for a businessman to be president. They chose Donald Trump. The problem with that, in my view, is that Trump is a fake billionaire. The other part of it for me is that the notion of a businessman is one that I don't think is without merit. And so in 2020, when I looked at the candidates, I decided maybe we need to experiment with this idea some people had that a businessperson would run the country better, but we should get a real businessman, not a fake businessman - somebody who has really created jobs, somebody who has really built a business, somebody whose wealth was not handed to them and somebody who, even if they are a billionaire, has a heart for the least of these and recognizes the importance of giving back. All of that I saw in Tom Steyer.
I'm a firm believer, and I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day. And for those sophisticated listeners, what that means is talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. Tom Steyer, with the exception of Elizabeth Warren, is the only candidate who has consistently talked about race regardless of the setting. He has gone further in making the connections between race, systemic racism and the effects, you know, institutional racism and all of that. And then the other for me is this whole notion of climate change. And one of the things that I think he can do differently with climate change is to frame it from an environmental justice standpoint, which is what he's spent his last few years working on.
MARTIN: Well, let me also ask you about if he gets the chance. I mean, does Tom Steyer have a path to the nomination? Because one of the questions about him is that he's polling very well in South Carolina. But what about everybody else? And the fact is you are a politician who's had some success. So the reality of it is, I mean, you know, that, you know, 10 beats nine. At the end of the day, you have to have the most votes.
MARTIN: Does he actually have a real path to the nomination?
COBB-HUNTER: And I think the answer to that depends on what his campaign structure looks like in other states. I just came on board within the last two weeks, and I cannot speak to what his campaign structure is like in other states. And here's - as a state legislator, as president of an organization of 700 legislators, what's important to me is who's at the top of the ticket because I need help, we need help down ballot. And so it's tough for me to look at the field and think, quite frankly, that any of them have a better chance than Steyer.
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you, though, about Bernie Sanders. Does, in fact, your embrace of Tom Steyer suggest that, like, some of the candidates have suggested that the current front-runner, who is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, would be a drag on the ticket? I mean, do you think that Bernie Sanders can win, and does your embrace of Tom Steyer, in part, imply that you don't think he can?
COBB-HUNTER: Not at all because I am not now and never have been in the anti-Bernie camp. My embrace of Tom Steyer is simply an embrace of a man who closely mirrors my positions on issues. But there is no perfect candidate. Here's the message to Democrats. Don't do what you accused Bernie of doing last time around, and that is not supporting the nominee.
MARTIN: I should ask you about Joe Biden, though. What's your take on how he's doing?
COBB-HUNTER: You know, the vice president is a very good man. I like him a lot. I know him. But he cannot win, in my view, as president. He doesn't have the staying power. And I think there are people around him who know that. And it makes me wonder, if you know that going in, why are you doing what you do to try to force this man into an area where he is going to be decimated?
MARTIN: Why do you say you don't think he has the staying power? You don't think he has the...
COBB-HUNTER: Because I've watched him. He's here in South Carolina all the time. I know what he was like before. And I've seen him now. And I - and this is going to be taken the wrong way, but he does not have the fire in the belly. His skills have slipped a little bit. He's not the Joe Biden of '08 who challenged Barack Obama. And we need to be real about that. And we need to just - we need to just be honest with people.
MARTIN: That was Gilda Cobb-Hunter, senior national adviser to the Tom Steyer campaign and the longest-serving member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.