Jamaican News

Clinton’s firewall? Black voters the key in South Carolina

By Bill Barrow


(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

COLUMBIA, S.C. _ While Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton battle in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two nominating states in the 2016 presidential election, there’s a scramble for black voters who will determine the South Carolina primary weeks later. Clinton has a strong advantage among black voters in South Carolina, putting pressure on Sanders.

Black voters represent a solid majority of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina _ and could make all the difference in the state’s Feb. 27 primary. A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll shows Clinton with 64 per cent of South Carolina’s likely Democratic votes, while her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has 27 per cent. Clinton leads in all demographics, but her 74-17 advantage among South Carolina’s black voters explains her overall 37-point margin.

Sanders isn’t conceding. Across town, teams of his staffers are going door-to-door in predominantly black neighbourhoods. The senator has visited college campuses with mostly African-American student bodies. African-American radio stations are filled with ads touting his record on civil rights and his promise to overhaul a criminal justice system that he says disproportionately targets black men.

Both campaigns acknowledge that South Carolina could be crucial in shaping the fight for the Democratic nomination. Even if Sanders builds momentum with wins in the overwhelmingly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire, that lead could evaporate quickly if he can’t attract more black voters in South Carolina and the bulk of Southern states voting in March.

Sanders offers “many ideas that appeal across the spectrum,” says South Carolina Democratic Chairman Jaime Harrison, who is black. Harrison notes the senator’s emphasis on economic inequality and systemic racism. “But he has to make that real to African-American voters on the ground,” Harrison says. “For most folks, Wall Street is as foreign as Moscow.”

Clinton has recently pegged Sanders as unwilling to take on gun violence given his occasional voting record against Democrats on gun regulation. It’s an issue that resonates among black voters following the April shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man killed by a white police officer in North Charleston, and the June massacre of nine people by a white gunman at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

“That’s as real as it gets to people here,” Harrison said.

Bryanta Maxwell, the 31-year-old president of Young Democrats in South Carolina, said she’s aware of Sanders’ gun votes but supports him because of his emphasis on ending mass incarceration and curbing police violence. “I read and I researched, and I said, you know, this resonates with me as the mother a young black boy,” she said.

Clinton, meanwhile, plays up her associations in the black community, often traced to her husband’s successful presidential bid in 1992, sometimes earlier, and extending to her relationship with Obama. Sanders notes that he attended the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but Clinton calls local black leaders by name at many of her stops, often recalling some past work they’ve done together.

“She’s a brand; he isn’t,” Maxwell said. “He has to figure out a way to set himself apart.”


Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard contributed.


Follow Bill Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP .

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