Democrats Struggling With Black Voters Target South Carolina
(Bloomberg) -- Four Democratic presidential candidates are trying to make up ground with black voters by visiting the early primary state of South Carolina this weekend, as they look to chip away at front-runner Joe Biden’s edge with a key party constituency.
Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker each appeared at the event hosted by the Black Economic Alliance in downtown Charleston. All four highlighted issues such as bridging the racial wealth gap, creating opportunity and emphasizing the legacy of slavery that are important to black voters in South Carolina and nationally.
Booker, a New Jersey senator and the only African American among the four, sought to distinguish himself by citing his tenure as mayor of Newark and his personal story growing up in a black family, which he said gave him unique insights when it comes to the concerns of black voters.
“This is the great thing about actually having a record as a chief executive of a state’s largest city that is majority black,” Booker, 50, said.
Problems affecting the black community are not “just policy issues to me, they’re intimate urgencies every day,” he told reporters after the forum, which will be broadcast on the BET Network on Sunday. “When you live in a neighborhood, when you have to have that fear of your own family walking the block.”
Booker and the other three Democrats all are struggling in the polls with African Americans, who overwhelmingly back the Democratic front-runner, Vice President Biden. The Charleston forum was an attempt to show an extra effort to court black voters, one week before the annual “World Famous Fish Fry,” to be hosted by South Carolina Representative James Clyburn, who said 22 out of 23 Democratic presidential candidates are slated to attend.
South Carolina will be the fourth state to vote in the Democratic nominating contest after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. It’s the first contest with a predominantly black electorate. A strong showing in the state often has foreshadowed enduring strength nationally with African Americans, an overwhelmingly Democratic constituency that makes up a large share of the party’s voters nationwide. The winner in South Carolina has gone on to win the Democratic nomination in four out of the last five contested party primaries.
“The primary electorate in South Carolina is comprised of 60% African Americans,” said Tony Coles, who co-chairs the Black Economic Alliance and is chief executive of the biopharmaceutical company Yumanity Therapeutics. “This will be one of the most clear cases of who a diverse electorate could support for president.”
“Make no mistake: black voters will determine who sits in the White House,” said Akunna Cook, the executive director of the Black Economic Alliance.
The latest Economist/YouGov national poll of the Democratic field released Wednesday found Biden leading with 26%, followed by Warren with 16%, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with 12%, Buttigieg with 8%, California Senator Kamala Harris with 6%, O’Rourke with 3% and Booker with 2%.
Among black voters, Biden towers over the pack with 50%, followed by Sanders with 10%. No other contender cracked double digits: Harris held 7% support, Warren and O’Rourke had 4%, while Booker had 2% and Buttigieg had 1%.
Warren, a Massachusetts senator, told the crowd that the American dream is out of reach for many African Americans. She outlined a plan to close the “entrepreneurship gap” between black and white Americans by setting aside $7 billion for investments in black and other minority-owned businesses.
“Why do we have that kind of black-white wealth gap? A big part of it is because of discrimination that was actively fostered by the U.S. government,” said Warren, 69.
Buttigieg has risen to the top five in national and early state polls, an impressive showing for the 37-year-old openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who was little-known outside his city before launching his campaign. But he’s barely registering with black voters, and has drawn overwhelmingly white crowds to rallies in black areas.
Asked why he’s having trouble attracting support from black voters, Buttigieg said it’s an issue of trust.
“A lot of it is because I’m new on the scene and I’m not myself from a community of color,” he said. “Black voters I’ve talk to frankly feel burned and taken advantage of by politicians in both parties.” African Americans feel candidates “come along with lavish promises, taking your vote for granted, showing up just before the election.”
O’Rourke, a former U.S. representative from Texas, said Saturday that tackling racism begins by raising awareness among white Americans about the ugly and enduring legacy of slavery.
“When we know the full American story, everyone’s going to be able to fully participate in this country’s success,” said O’Rourke, 46. “You are going to have the consciousness of white Americans that will be awakened to both the injustice and to the opportunity.”
Before the candidates took the stage, Clyburn highlighted injustices that black Americans continue to face, from a vast racial wealth gap to unequal access to a quality education and to broadband Internet. He also took aim at one of the Democratic Party’s biggest historical achievements, saying it was laced with racism.
“The New Deal was a raw deal for many of the communities I represent, mostly across the South,” Clyburn said, adding that many of the Great Depression program’s benefits “had a little tag on them: white only.”
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