Pollak: Like Obama, Kamala Harris Lags Among Black Voters — Until She Doesn’t

Kamala Harris (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty)
Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty

Polls show that former vice president Joe Biden still leads Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) by a wide margin among black voters. But then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), too, led then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) among black voters through the fall of 2007 — until, suddenly, she didn’t.

Harris might have been expected to break through after she attacked Biden for his past praise for segregationists and his past opposition to busing at the first Democratic debate.

But although Biden’s support dipped, and Harris enjoyed a bump, Biden is still securely ahead among black voters.

CNN noted last week (original links):

Harris is still about 20 points behind Biden among black voters overall. In an average of four live interview national polls (ABC News/Washington Post, CNN/SSRS, NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Quinnipiac University) taken after the debate, Biden holds 39% of the black vote. Harris is in second place with 20%, which is only 5 points ahead of Sanders’ 15%. …
Put another way: Biden’s campaign is still largely being powered by black voters in a way Harris’ campaign isn’t.

Biden also holds a massive lead in South Carolina, the early primary state in which black voters hold the most sway. A Monmouth University poll released Thursday showed Biden leading Harris 39% to 12% among likely voters. That margin increased among black voters, where Biden led Harris 51% to 12%.

However, it is still very early in the election cycle. At this point in 2007, Clinton was so far ahead of Obama among black voters that it was difficult to see him overcoming her advantage. As late as October 2007, Clinton led Obama 57% to 33% among black voters. Pundits theorized as to why Obama had failed to gain traction. One factor was Bill Clinton’s popularity among black voters; another was Obama’s unusual origins (an issue Harris has also faced).

Yet Obama flipped the polls completely — and rapidly. The left-wing Salon.com accurately recalled how and why that happened. First, Oprah Winfrey endorsed Obama, bringing him to the attention of her racially mixed audience. Second, Obama won Iowa, thanks to Oprah, superior organizing on the ground, and skepticism over Hillary’s vote for the Iraq War. Once black voters saw that Obama could win support among the white, rural electorate, they came around: his was not just a symbolic candidacy, but a campaign with a real chance to succeed. The Clintons, stung by Obama’s sudden rise, lashed out in ways easily portrayed as racist, cementing Obama’s support among black voters.

Harris has yet to show that she can match Obama’s oratorical or organizing skills. She still lacks a clear message. But Obama’s turnaround is a reminder that Biden’s lead among black voters, as wide as it is, may not be there for long.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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