If there was a point of weakness with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 bid, it was his weakness with black voters. I think black voters like what he had to say, but they weren’t going to defect and toss their lot in with him. After all, Hillary Clinton was going to win anyway, right? Also, she was running, and black voters flocked to her banner. Hillary’s domination through the South helped her get an edge on Sanders; he never recovered. The self-described democratic socialist did do well with white-working class whites and young voters, so there is a lot of ‘what could have been’ talk in the Sanders camp if the aging Vermont senator had been able to clinch the Democratic nomination. That hope died during the so-called Acela Corridor primaries in April of 2016, where Clinton had pretty much sewn up the contest. That was made official by June. So, with the Left obsessed with diversity, especially concerning young women of color, you’d think his first swing at trying to nab a solid chunk of the black Democratic vote would go well. There’s no Clinton. The party has lurched further to the Left. He should be fine, right? Nope. When asked on The Breakfast Club on 105.1 FM what pieces of legislation he helped pass that benefitted black Americans, Sanders couldn’t name a single one.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: So, I think I have a long history in civil rights activism. In 1988 I was one of the few white public officials who supported Jesse Jackson for President of the United States and he ended up winning Vermont. I think if you look at my record, in terms of civil rights and other areas, you will find it is consistently a very, very strong work.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Any legislation we can point to?
SEN. SANDERS: Well legislation that, ah, benefits African-Americans, yeah we passed, but not specifically. We passed legislation that benefits working people, sure.
So, let’s rehash Mr. Sanders relations with one of the top Democratic constituencies in their voter base. And I use the word relations loosely since Vermont is a state that’s whiter than Wonder Bread. This is from June of 2015 (via NYT):
Even his own campaign advisers acknowledge that Mr. Sanders is virtually unknown to many African-Americans, an enormously important Democratic constituency.
Though he led sit-ins as a civil rights activist in the 1960s, helped the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. pull off a surprising campaign victory in Vermont in 1988, and espouses liberal policy ideas broadly popular with many Democrats, Mr. Sanders has had little direct experience with black voters as a politician in a state that is 95 percent white. And they have been largely absent from his campaign events so far.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is working assiduously to cement her support among black voters. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week, 95 percent of nonwhite Democratic voters said they could see themselves supporting Mrs. Clinton for the nomination in the primary. Only about one-quarter of respondents said they could see themselves voting for Mr. Sanders.
And Mrs. Clinton is hardly sitting still: She has spoken out assertively on race relations and gun control over the past week, and she visited a black church on Tuesday near Ferguson, Mo., where the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in August ignited protests.
Mr. Sanders has lamented “the ugly stain of racism that still taints our nation,” but he has yet to take the subject on in a forceful way.
Given the makeup of the Democratic primary electorate, Mr. Sanders’s capacity to win support among blacks represents a test of his relevance: It will help determine whether he can drain many votes from Mrs. Clinton or is bound to be merely a nuisance candidate with a following among the most ideologically driven liberal whites.
Mr. Sanders’s advisers concede that Mrs. Clinton is more familiar and popular among black Democrats, but they say his background and views will allow him to speak credibly to African-Americans in places like Charleston, Ferguson and elsewhere. His struggle, they say, is to introduce himself swiftly and on a broad scale so his remarks resonate and have an effect.
Yeah, that latter part never happened. And now as we close February of 2019, The Times wonders is Sanders can do better with black voters in 2020, given his past stumbles with this voter bloc:
Shortly after Senator Bernie Sanders suffered a crushing loss in South Carolina’s Democratic primary in 2016, his campaign’s African-American outreach team sent a memo to top campaign leaders with an urgent warning.
“The margin by which we lost the African-American vote has got to be — at the very least — cut in half or there simply is no path to victory,” the team wrote in the memo, which was reviewed by The New York Times. Mr. Sanders had won 14 percent of the black vote there compared with 86 percent for Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls.
Over seven pages, the team outlined a strategy for winning black voters that included using social media influencers and having Mr. Sanders give a major speech on discrimination in a city like St. Louis or Cincinnati.
Mr. Sanders’s inner circle did not respond.
In a campaign in which Mr. Sanders badly needed his message against inequality to catch fire with black voters, the senator from Vermont and his senior leaders struggled to prioritize and execute a winning plan to build their support. Top aides lost faith in their African-American outreach organizers, whose leadership was replaced and whose team members were scattered across the country. Initiatives like a tour of historically black colleges and universities fizzled; Mr. Sanders even missed its kickoff event.
And now Mr. Sanders is unable to point to one bill that helped black Americans. Yes, being for civil rights is great. Yes, he helped out Jesse Jackson. Talk is cheap. And Bernie shows he still has a long way to go to make inroads with these key Democratic voters. And it will be difficult with a diverse field, which includes two progressive black Democrats. I don’t think the Bern will be felt as intensely this go-around.