Obama, National Democrats Fail To Deliver Win in Blue City's Mayoral Race

Republican Daniel Rickenmann elected mayor of Columbia, S.C., after city's decades of Dem control

Getty Images
November 17, 2021

Major endorsements from former president Barack Obama and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.) failed to deliver Democrats a mayoral victory in Columbia, S.C., a city the party has controlled for decades.

Daniel Rickenmann, a Republican businessman, on Tuesday defeated Democratic attorney Tameika Isaac Devine by 4 points to become Columbia's next mayor. A slew of prominent national Democrats, including Obama, Clyburn, and Democratic National Committee chairman Jaime Harrison, backed Devine in the race.

The result shows that Democrats' plummeting popularity extends even to areas the party has historically dominated. Obama, who in a Monday audio message urged Columbia voters to "make history again by showing up for Tameika Isaac Devine," won the city's county by 29 points in 2008 and 33 points in 2012. Clyburn, meanwhile, resides in Columbia and has represented major portions of the city since 1993. The Democrat secured reelection by nearly 38 points in 2020. Just four years ago, Republicans did not challenge Rickenmann's predecessor, Democratic mayor Stephen Benjamin.

Following Rickenmann's win, South Carolina GOP chairman Drew McKissick said it's "safe to say the red wave is bigger than ever, and we eagerly expect to continue beating Democrats across South Carolina in 2022."

"South Carolina voters have proven yet again they reject Democrat agendas," McKissick said in a statement. "After Democrats pulled out all the stops with Jaime Harrison and the DNC and Barack Obama, they still lost."

The Democratic National Committee did not return a request for comment.

Tuesday's result marks the second time in a matter of weeks that major national Democrats have failed to get their party's candidate over the line in an election they expected to win. Obama in October campaigned with Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe, pressing voters to reject the GOP's "politics of meanness and division and conflict, of tribalism and cynicism." McAuliffe lost to Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin by roughly 2 points.

President Joe Biden also campaigned repeatedly with McAuliffe, even though the Virginia Democrat admitted that Biden is "unpopular" in Virginia and could cause "headwinds" in the race. The president's standing with the American people is in rapid decline—just 38 percent of voters approve of Biden, according to a November USA Today poll. The poll also showed that just one in four voters say Biden's roughly $1.75 trillion social spending bill will "help them and their families."