How Hillary Clinton Won the Black Vote in South Carolina

Hillary Clinton greets supporters after a town hall meeting at Cumberland United Methodist Church in Florence, S.C., February 25, 2016. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Hillary Clinton greets supporters after a town hall meeting at Cumberland United Methodist Church in Florence, S.C., February 25, 2016. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Hillary Clinton began her campaign to win South Carolina years ago. 

Polls show African-American voters, who could make up a majority in the state’s Democratic primary on Saturday, are poised to help Clinton defeat Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., by a wide margin.

Her husband, Bill Clinton, was famously dubbed America’s “first black president” because of his background, behavior and the admiration he earned from some in the African-American community during his time in office. But fond memories of Bill and the 1990s aren’t what cemented Hillary Clinton’s edge with black voters in South Carolina. Clinton managed to build a base in the Palmetto State through a years-long, under-the-radar operation to stay in touch and gather support from African-American leaders in the state she lost to Barack Obama in 2008.

Sanders, on the other hand, struggled to gain traction with black voters in South Carolina, hampered by the very thing that has lifted him elsewhere: his position as an outsider and newcomer on the state’s political scene. Attempts at outreach came late and were described by some local African-American leaders as ham-fisted.

The Clinton campaign’s South Carolina ground operation launched on the day she announced her presidential bid last April. At the time, she was the clear frontrunner and had the fundraising to match. That early edge let Clinton hire experienced local staff and set up shop in South Carolina long before Sanders was seen as anything more than a long-shot challenger with little national profile.

“We were in this state first. The day we launched this campaign, we had staff in the state,” said Marlon Marshall, Clinton’s director of states and political engagement.

But Clinton’s presence in South Carolina began long before that day. Bill Clinton won the Palmetto State primaries in 1992 and 1996, which allowed Hillary Clinton to build relationships in the state and get to know its politics and leading personages. In fact, Clinton’s ties in the state predate her husband’s presidential bid. Clay Middleton, a native South Carolinian who served as state director of Clinton’s campaign, noted she first came into the state during the 1970s while working as a young lawyer with the Children’s Defense Fund. And as first lady of Arkansas, Clinton co-chaired a task force on infant mortality with former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley.

“She’s been working in and with South Carolinians since the ’70s, but every decade since then, she’s been in and out of the state working with people,” Middleton said. “She has deep roots here, and it has blossomed over the years.”

But all that support seemingly vanished in 2008, when Clinton faced off against Obama, the first African-American major-party presidential primary frontrunner. Rev. Joseph Darby, vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP, attributed Clinton’s loss that year to the simple fact that voters had — and wanted to take — the chance to elect the first black president.

“Before that possibility came, Hillary was actually doing quite well,” Darby explained. “She had nailed down a good number of endorsements.”

Nevertheless, even after being beaten by Obama in South Carolina, Clinton never retreated from South Carolina, Darby said.

“I don’t think Hillary’s ever been off the ground except for the little while when there was a tiff after the ’08 primary. She has stayed in touch with the community. She started laying groundwork for this run, oh, probably three or four years ago. She’s had people circulating. … She’s talked to the right folks,” Darby said, adding, “I don’t think South Carolina ever entirely left the Clintons. It might have parked them in the corner for one election, but they’ve maintained good relationships.”

In contrast, a source said the Sanders campaign did not begin to establish a large presence in the state until last September.

Sanders’ allies acknowledge he doesn’t have the support of South Carolina’s older African-American church leaders and established groups. The rapper Killer Mike, whose music mixes political messages and hard-driving hip-hop beats, has campaigned for Sanders in the state and sought to draw the support of a younger African-American audience. Killer Mike had made the case that Sanders’ message echoes that of Martin Luther King Jr. — even if the “idols” of King’s movement are with Clinton.

“For me, the policy that Dr. King was about at the time of his death, the Poor People’s Campaign, workers’ rights, civil and social justice for all people, are best accomplished with the Sanders campaign,” Killer Mike said. “If you take the idols themselves out of the equation and only leave the policies and principles that they taught for the last 50 years, I’d not see how any rational black person could vote for anyone but Bernie Sanders.”

But in South Carolina, many black voters are clearly resisting Sanders’ “political revolution.” While Sanders’ promise to take on the political establishment has helped fuel his challenge to Clinton in other parts of the country, that outsider status may have actually hurt him in South Carolina’s African-American community.

JA Moore is a 30-year-old African-American South Carolina native who serves as vice chair of the Charleston County Democratic Party. As of Wednesday, Moore said he had not decided how he will vote in the primary. But in Charleston, where he moved a little over a decade ago, Moore says he is still viewed as an outsider.

“Me not being from Charleston, they call me a ‘come ya,’ and people that are from here, they call them a ‘been ya,’” Moore said, using phrases from the local Geechee dialect. “I think a lot of times people look at Secretary Clinton as someone that’s been here before. They’ve seen her, they recognize her, they have a certain level of comfort with her because they know her. … I think with Sen. Sanders, he’s a ‘come ya.’”

Addressing recent racial wounds in the state, only some of which have made national news, has been a tricky thing for insider and outsider candidate alike. In April of last year, a black man named Walter Scott was shot in the back and killed as he ran from a white police officer in North Charleston. Footage of the shooting energized the Black Lives Matter movement in the South Carolina. Then, two months later, white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people at “Mother Emanuel,” a historic African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston.

These incidents have had a “transformative” effect on South Carolina’s political landscape, said Moore, whose sister was killed in the church shooting.

“We’re going to be forever affected by Emanuel and forever affected by the tragedy of Walter Scott as well,” Moore said, adding: “Friends of mine have called me throughout the country and said, ‘JA, why aren’t people here in Charleston, why aren’t they doing what happened in Baltimore or in Ferguson? Why aren’t people looting the streets and burning things down? Why does it seem to be the African-American community is so subdued in Charleston?’”

Moore said there’s no question Charleston’s black population is upset.

“We’re angry. We’re frustrated. We’re devastated because of this tragedy,” Moore said. “I want to make sure that’s clear. We’re angry, but … we’re looking for substantive change and substantive actions to happen because of it.”

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Source: Yahoo News