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War for the Black Vote: Clinton, Sanders Head Toward South Carolina; Then Super Tuesday

By Hazel Trice Edney



Civil rights leaders gather at the NUL DC headquarters after a Feb. 18 meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. A separate meeting was held in New York the day before with Hillary Clinton. PHOTO: Courtesy/NUL

( – The Democratic presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has intensified into a highly anticipated struggle for the Black vote. So far, Clinton appears to be winning that battle as they head for the Democratic Primary in South Carolina and Super Tuesday, a string of battle ground states where the Black turnout will be key.

Clinton appears to be banking on her long history of working alongside civil rights leaders, largely as a young activist; then as first lady and U. S. senator. Sanders has not received as much traction with Black voters so far, but had a large enough following to win New Hampshire 60 percent to Clinton’s 38 percent. Clinton won Iowa slimly 49.9 percent to 49.6 percent as well as Nevada, 52.6 percent to 47.3 percent.

Headed toward the South Carolina primary Feb. 27 and Super Tuesday, when 12 states will hold primaries or caucuses March 1, they are both fiercely courting Black leaders and issues heavily.

Clinton and Sanders discussed this tug of war during separate televised interviews with Rev. Al Sharpton.

Clinton, also former secretary of state for the Obama administration, touted her longstanding relationships with Black leaders. “Many of them I’ve worked with for a very long time tackling systemic racism, injustice and inequality but also going after the poor quality schools that too many of our kids are trapped in. A general emphasis on racism and inequality and altogether what it does to hold people back,” she said.

Sanders, a sitting U. S. senator from Vermont with a passion and affinity for the poor and economic justice and a record of activism during the civil right movement, has attracted youth and independent voters.

“What many African-American leaders are legitimately concerned about is that you can get money to the states – good thing – but we don’t get the money to the communities that are most in need,” said Sanders in a televised interview with MSNBC Host Al Sharpton. “We’ve got to write legislation to say that money, those jobs go to the people most in need.”

The two also met separately with heads of nine historic Black organizations last week – Clinton in New York and Sanders in D.C. Those meetings were chaired by National Urban League President Marc Morial.

“We want to be fair,” Morial said at the Urban League’s New York headquarters. He said the goal was to simply share with the two candidates the important issues of the Black community and to hear their perspectives.

“We’ve promulgated a comprehensive agenda that covers the economic, education, criminal justice reform, police reform, health issues and voting issues. This is a comprehensive agenda…We’ll share it with every candidate who sits down with us,” Morial said.

Morial shared that all the organizations represented in the meetings are legally non-partisan; therefore none would be endorsing. However, Sharpton said after the Bernie Sanders meeting that some leaders may announce personal endorsements. Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown family lawyer Benjamin Crump, president of the National Bar Association, said after the Sanders meeting that he intends to endorse.

Meanwhile, both candidates have received powerful endorsements from Black community leaders. U. S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) endorsed Clinton last week as well as former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, enough influence to swing the South Carolina Black vote fully in her court. But, Sanders has the endorsement of former NAACP President Ben Jealous as well as author Dr. Cornel West as well as film maker Spike Lee, all of whom also carry significant weight. Jealous said this week that Sanders has made significant ad purchases in member newspapers of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, an organization that Jealous once served as executive director.

The 10 states that hold Democratic and Republican Primaries on Super Tuesday are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. A Democratic Caucus is also held by the American Samoa. Also on Super Tuesday, Republicans have a Tennessee primary and a caucus in Alaska.

Meanwhile the endorsers have begun pushing for their candidates.

“A few days ago, I admitted that my head and my heart were in different places relative to this year’s presidential primary,” Clyburn said as he announced his endorsement. “Today, however, my head and my heart are in the same place. A few people speculated that my head was with one candidate and my heart was with another. That was not the case at all. My heart has always been with Hillary Clinton, but my head was in a neutral corner. I have decided to terminate my neutrality and get engaged.”

Jealous said of Sanders, “From his days of going to jail with the Congress of Racial Equality to speed up the integration of housing in Chicago to supporting Jesse Jackson’s campaign for president in 1988, he is the only candidate that has a comprehensive racial justice platform today.”

As the Democratic candidates compete for Black voters, who traditionally give the lion’s share of their support to the Democratic ticket, Republican candidates are now narrowing the field. After Donald Trump won the South Carolina Republican primary well ahead of the field, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the race. In addition to Trump, this leaves Republican candidates Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio.

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