Bakari Sellers has politics in his blood.
At age 21 in 2006, he became the youngest state legislator in the nation, winning the seat held by veteran lawmaker Thomas Rhoad of Bamberg County.
In 2008, he was a top campaign leader for then-Sen. Barack Obama in South Carolina and beyond.
In 2014, he gave up his House seat to run for S.C. lieutenant governor as the Democratic nominee.
In 2016, he is supporting Hillary Clinton for the presidency – and doing so on the national stage.
The Columbia attorney is a political analyst for CNN, which features him as a regular in its wall-to-wall coverage of the presidential race.
On Tuesday, Sellers will be doing a show from New York with CNN’s Erin Burnett during voting in the Wisconsin primaries. Later, he’ll be involved with the CNN team analyzing results.
The expanding television role is relatively new for Sellers – one that grew out of traumatic events in 2015.
On June 17, Sellers was in Charleston along with Clinton for a fundraiser for the Democratic presidential candidate’s impending campaign. On the way back to Columbia, Sellers took notice of a major law enforcement presence streaming east.
It was the night of the mass shootings at Emanuel AME Church that took the lives of his longtime friend and colleague, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, and eight others.
“The next day, I packed my bags and went down to Charleston,” where Sellers appeared on national television in a commentator/analyst role.
During the Charleston broadcasts, Sellers and others noted the Confederate flag was the only banner not flying at half-staff, which led to reporting that the banner could not be so lowered under state law. Then came the images of the Charleston shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, wrapping himself in the Confederate banner.
Down came the flag, with the outcry over the killings and the shooter’s alleged racist motives leading to removal of the banner from Statehouse grounds later in the summer. “It took a perfect storm for the flag to come down,” Sellers said.
The Charleston experience led to Sellers being approached by the president of CNN and offered a secondary commentator’s role on issues pertaining to race. He started on the CNN State of the Union show on Sunday mornings but made his feelings clear that he did not want to be pigeon-holed to expressing views on race.
Now as the second-youngest commentator on CNN, his role as political analyst has expanded to more than 200 appearances.
Sellers’ job is to speak as a politician. He is not a journalist, he says. “I get paid to have an opinion.”
“It’s fun. I’m from Denmark. It’s a cool experience.”
During a conference with mass communications students at Claflin University on March 29, Sellers said support for Clinton is “a very easy choice.” As one of the earliest backers of Obama a decade ago, he sees Clinton as the candidate to build on the president’s record.
“I know the president very well,” Sellers said. “I have great love for our president.”
Sellers said Clinton and Obama long ago buried animosity from the 2008 campaign. “She and the president are very close,” Sellers said, acknowledging he and the Clintons also had to mend fences after the 2008 race.
Sellers said Clinton’s record makes her the right choice for president, though he would not tell Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to withdraw from the race. “I do believe Bernie Sanders has a message.”
As to the Republican race, Sellers said Trump is the likely nominee. He cannot see the party taking the nomination away from the New York billionaire if Trump has the number of delegates needed or is even close.
But Trump will not be elected president, Sellers said. “I have a greater belief in our country than that.”
Hillary vs. Trump: “It will be a battle for the soul of this country,” Sellers said.
Obama will be the bully in the campaign, Sellers said, working as a primary attack force against Trump.
Trump “is an interesting guy,” Sellers said. He is not the racist that many contend, but he is using racism in his so-far-successful campaign. “He knows what plays.”
Republicans have themselves to blame for Trump’s rise, Sellers said. Talk radio created the phenomenon that led to the rejection of the establishment.
While Sellers talks politics as an analyst, he has not given up on his own political ambitions.
Having never made a secret of his desire to serve in Congress, he continues to reside in the 6th Congressional District and would welcome the opportunity to succeed veteran Congressman James Clyburn, for whom Sellers worked while a student.
For now, he predicts a run for governor if the GOP wins the White House in 2016. If Clinton wins, Sellers said he likely would not seek the office.