Both Democratic candidates seeking the presidential nomination were desperately fighting for the black vote on Wednesday, ahead of the upcoming South Carolina primary. Bernie Sanders is attempting to continue the momentum from his massive victory in New Hampshire, while Hillary Clinton is hoping that the South Carolina primary on February 27th becomes a firewall that helps shut down Bernie Sanders.
Sander’s first stop after leaving New Hampshire was a meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign sent daughter Chelsea to predominately black Flint, Michigan, to make political hay out of that city’s current water crisis. Clinton also hired a press aide from the Department of Education as her new director of black media.
Clinton currently has a double-digit lead in South Carolina, but she is still haunted by her loss to Barack Obama in the Palmetto State in 2008.
In an interview on Bloomberg News, South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jamie Harrison said that if “Sanders really wants to win South Carolina, the demographic he needs to focus on is African-American women.”
Harrison points out that in 2008, 61% of the Democrat primary vote was women and 56% was African-American.
Harrison acknowledges that Bernie Sanders has built “a great ground game” in South Carolina,” but because Hillary Clinton was hurt in South Carolina in 2008 by Barack Obama’s upset primary victory, Harrison says that Clinton personally told him “I am not going to take any votes for granted” this time around. In 2008, despite support from the Democrat establishment and a number of black leaders, Clinton lost every county but two in South Carolina.
On Tuesday, Clinton brought black celebrity reinforcements to South Carolina, including Sean Patrick Thomas, Angela Bassett, and Vivica Fox.
However, both Sanders and Clinton are facing new terrain with black activists.
When Clinton ran in 2008, she was dealing with a black establishment structure led by longtime civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and allies in the Congressional Black Caucus. Clinton quickly learned, however, that black voters preferred Barack Obama.
The 2016 black leadership is different — splintered and more radical. Empowered by Barack Obama’s bully pulpit on black issues enforced by his Department of Justice, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, a new generation of black activist have grown weary of promises from Democrats and are no longer playing the game of what they call “the politics of respectability.”
This new group is pushing hard for agenda items such as reparations for slavery, diminishing the role of police in favor of “community policing,” and an end to what they call “mass incarceration.”
The mass incarceration issue has implications for the 2016 race, as shown by Maryland’s recent decision to grant voting rights to 30,000 ex-prisoners.
Clinton’s surrogates are coming out hard against Sanders. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries told reporters on a conference call, ”It’s good to have new friends, but I would prefer to have true friends.” Joining him on that call supporting Hillary Clinton were NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes and South Carolina Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford.
While Hillary Clinton is courting the old-school old black establishment, socialist Bernie Sanders clearly has more appeal to the radical wing.
Two leading black advocates to end mass incarceration—Ta-Nahisi Coates and Michelle Alexander—both came out for Bernie Sanders today. Last week, Sanders also got the endorsement of former NAACP president Ben Jealous and radical communist academic Cornel West.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton will face each other next in a debate from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Thursday night covered by PBS.