How Hillary garnered the black vote

2016-03-08 05:41
Hillary Clinton during the playing of the national anthem before a Democratic presidential primary debate against Bernie Sanders. (Charlie Neibergall, AP)

Hillary Clinton during the playing of the national anthem before a Democratic presidential primary debate against Bernie Sanders. (Charlie Neibergall, AP)

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New York - Hillary Clinton is on a roll. If her candidacy ever looked in doubt to an insurgent Bernie Sanders, she's all but guaranteed the Democratic nomination - thanks overwhelmingly to African Americans.

A month after her bruising defeat in New Hampshire, where Sanders won every category of voter except those older than 65 and earning more than $200 000 a year, Clinton has chalked up massive wins.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia she romped to victory, and is tipped to win on Tuesday in Mississippi and Michigan, which all have sizeable African American communities.

Black voters have become critical to winning US elections. Without decisive African American turnout in seven states, Barack Obama would have lost to Mitt Romney in 2012, the independent Cook Political Report found.

Four years later, blacks are voting overwhelmingly for the former secretary of state, cold shouldering the white-haired democratic socialist from the north. But why?

Certainly Clinton has done much more than Sanders to address systemic racism, white privilege and the need for more opportunities for blacks.

"I have spent a lot of time with the mothers of African American children who have lost them," she told Sunday's Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, the black majority city suffering from water contamination.

"I can't pretend to have the experience that you have had and others have had, but I will do everything that I possibly can, to not only do the best to understand and to empathise, but to tear down the barriers of systemic racism."


Clinton raised the spectre of environmental racism, questioning whether the lead-contaminated scandal would have happened in wealthy white suburbs.

"She talks very forcefully about these issues in a way that she hasn't before and you don't normally have from presidential candidates," said Stefanie Brown James, Obama's African American vote director in 2012.

While Sanders has spent his career in Vermont, where only 1% of the population is black, Clinton was first lady of Arkansas for 12 years, taking on a prominent role in trying to improve health and education.

She ran legal clinics representing disenfranchised people.

While still a student at Yale Law School, she went to South Carolina to investigate juveniles in adult jails and to Alabama to investigate segregation in schools for the Children's Defence Fund.

After more than a generation on the national stage, all of this has become common knowledge - particularly among blacks.

In South Carolina, she addressed the nation's oldest black sorority, dressed in green - a courtesy to an organisation whose colours are green and pink.

"That's the kind of little stuff, the attention to detail that people notice and appreciate," said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Right or wrong for a feminist campaigning to become the first woman president of the United States, experts also agree that much of her appeal stems from her marriage to Bill Clinton.

For more than a generation black Americans have embraced the Clintons as a couple who have worked against racial prejudice and presided over economic prosperity in the 1990s when black unemployment fell and incomes rose.

Race matters 

On the campaign trail, Clinton frequently recalls the economic growth of her husband's administration as a legacy she will continue.

Bill Clinton's poor southern background and easy manner - playing saxophone on television wearing shades - won him love and admiration from black voters.

He supported affirmative action, appointed a record number of African Americans to his cabinet and was close friends with business executive and civil rights figure Vernon Jordan.

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison famously dubbed him the first black president by comparing him to the black man always presumed guilty.

The Clinton record is not unblemished - Bill Clinton's welfare reform and crime bill are blamed for fanning poverty and record incarceration rates which have hit blacks disproportionately - both have since expressed regret.

While Sanders has spoken of being arrested during the 1960s civil rights movement, his plea for votes has focused far more on economic inequality.

"That's the problem that blacks typically have with white progressives, that they look at everything through class and forget that race still matters, and it's that type of framing that has frustrated some blacks," said Gillespie.

African Americans who agonised in 2008 about whether to vote for Clinton or Obama and picked Obama now feel they can do right by Clinton, the woman who has gone out of her way to present herself as Obama's heir.

Read more on:    hillary clinton  |  us  |  us 2016 elections

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