Al Sharpton is ‘Afraid’ of What a Rand Paul Candidacy Could do to Black Voter Turnout in 2016

Al Sharpton (Getty)
Al Sharpton (Getty)

The Rev. Al Sharpton says Rand Paul’s efforts to engage black voters could present a strategic challenge for Democrats: If the Republican senator runs for president, fewer African Americans may be motivated to show up and vote against him.

The civil rights activist and TV host had breakfast with the Kentucky senator last week, and the pair discussed the need for criminal justice reform before disagreeing over how to deal with the immigration system.

Democrats have traditionally done well among African American voters, especially with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. In 2016, Democrats will “need maximum black turnout in a lot of states,” Sharpton told POLITICO.

“What I think is more dangerous for Democrats is, if a guy like Paul is out there, if he becomes the nominee, for argument’s sake, he … does not generate a turnout against him” among African Americans, Sharpton said. He added, “If he’s able to neutralize his past image on civil rights, if he becomes the candidate … and if you don’t get a huge black turnout saying ‘We’re afraid [of him],’” that could be a pitfall for Democrats.

Sharpton pointed to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to engage the black community as an example. Bloomberg “didn’t get a lot of black votes … but because he reached out, a lot of blacks were not energized to come out and vote against him,” Sharpton said.

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