Want to be president? Talk to this guy

By Peter Hamby, CNN

updated 12:47 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Hambycast is a weekly politics series featuring CNN’s Peter Hamby
  • Bakari Sellers is a Democrat running for lieutenant governor in South Carolina
  • Sellers, 29, is serving his fourth term in the state house

Columbia, South Carolina (CNN) — It’s September of 2014, but Bakari Sellers is already getting calls and visits from the small crop of Democrats considering a 2016 presidential bid.

Few voters outside South Carolina have heard of him. But he’s a young star in the state’s Democratic party, and as a key political figure in a pivotal early primary state, Sellers could play an outsized role in electing the next President.

When Barack Obama won South Carolina’s 2008 presidential primary in blowout fashion, boosting his campaign after a devastating blow in New Hampshire, Sellers, then a 23-year old first-term state legislator, was in the crowd at his victory party, beaming.

Sellers co-chaired Obama’s campaign in the early primary state, helping the then-senator go from long-shot to history-maker after vanquishing Hillary Clinton in the heavily African-American state. For Obama, having the Sellers name on his campaign steering committee didn’t hurt: Bakari’s father, Cleveland Sellers, is a civil rights icon in the state, jailed in the aftermath of the 1968 “Orangeburg Massacre” in which three black students were killed by police.

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Today, at the advanced age of 29, Sellers is serving his fourth term in the state house — and he’s being courted by the small crop of Democrats considering a 2016 presidential bid, including Vice President Joe Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Hillary Clinton has yet to come calling, but the Ready For Hillary super PAC, eager to co-opt some of Obama’s 2008 magic in South Carolina, recently invited Sellers to headline a fundraiser for the group.

Related:In South Carolina, Clinton’s forces try to tap Obama magic

But before the presidential campaign kicks off, Sellers has his own race to run. He’s on the ballot for lieutenant governor this fall, running against Henry McMaster, 67, a former Attorney General and South Carolina GOP chairman. If he wins, Sellers would be the first African-American elected statewide since Reconstruction. But that’s a long-shot proposition for a Democrat in this GOP-leaning state — and that historic honor will likely go to Sen. Tim Scott, an African-American Republican who is seeking a first full-term this November and is running against token Democratic opposition.

Sellers can be unusually blunt when lamenting the lack of support that down-ballot southern Democrats receive from the national party and donors. But he’s still in frequent touch with Democratic players in Washington — and will be in the 2016 conversation as a key endorser once the presidential primary season is underway.

“Hambycast” caught up with him at Lizard’s Thicket, a famous meat-n-three in South Carolina that’s also a gathering place for hungry political types. Or just people who want some fish and grits.

Related: Martin O’Malley moving political staff to South Carolina

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