Clinton eyes N.C. victory, fights apathy
Her team aims to prevent ‘anemic’ black turnout
DURHAM, N.C. — Hillary Clinton inserted a sly remark near the end of her speech from a Baptist church pulpit here on Sunday, telling the crowd, “I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.”
She didn’t need to. The black congregants who packed the pews laughed and applauded, and when Clinton finished speaking, they said goodbye with the same standing ovation with which they had greeted her.
At an estimated one-quarter of this year’s electorate, African-Americans are a larger percentage in North Carolina than in any other traditional battleground state.
The problem for Clinton in North Carolina, where polls continue to show a close race with Donald Trump, is not opposition — by all accounts, she’ll win overwhelmingly among those blacks who do vote — it’s the risk of apathy.
“Anemic black turnout, even if it overwhelming goes for Hillary Clinton, is a Democrat Hillary Clinton shares smiles Sunday with early voters in North Carolina. problem,” said Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political science professor.
To combat that possibility, the campaign has showered the state with visits from President Barack Obama and black celebrities, networked with church leaders and invested heavily in organizing black students. Clinton is scheduled to be back in North Carolina on Thursday, this time with first lady Michelle Obama.
After speaking at the Durham church on Sunday, Clinton gave an interview to the state’s largest black newspaper, visited a polling place with actress UzoAdubafrom “Orange is the New Black” and spoke at a rally at Saint Augustine’s, a historically black university.
“We’ve always understood that this is a crucial demographic for us,” said Dan Kanninen, the campaign’s senior adviser in the state.
North Carolina is where Obama had his smallest margin of victory in 2008 and his smallest margin of defeat in 2012. Now residents are al- ready casting ballots in this election. Early voting at polling places began on Thursday; mail ballots were available as early as Sept. 9.
An analysis by J. Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College, shows 26 percent of early voters this year are black, down from 29 percent in 2012.
Clinton has spoken bluntly about race — referring to “systemic racism” and “implicit bias.” And she’s embraced the Black Lives Matter movement, which sprung up in response to police shootings of unarmed black men.
In a recent interview with a Florida radio station, she praised Black Lives Matter for playing “a very constructive role.”
Critics have most notably pointed to her use of the word “super- predator” when speaking about the need for tougher criminal justice legislation in the 1990s during her husband’s presidency.
Some young voters fear Clinton won’t bring the sweeping change they feel is necessary to prevent the criminal justice system from unfairly targeting black people. “They’re more dissatisfied, and more impatient. They want to go for the jugular of problems,” Gillespie said. “They view Hillary Clinton as a throwback to the past.”
Clinton’s most high-profile campaign partners are from an older generation, including mothers whose children died after encounters with law enforcement or during high-profile cases of gun violence. Five of them joined her at the church on Sunday.
Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter, Sandra Bland, died in a Texas jail after she was arrested during a traffic stop, said there was no excuse for not voting.
“You have no business staying home in this election,” she said to applause.
The issue of police shootings received added urgency in North Carolina last month when Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed in Charlotte. Police have said Scott had a weapon; his family said he was reading a book and waiting for his son.
Clinton had planned to travel to the city shortly after Scott’s death, but delayed her trip at the mayor’s request. When she arrived a week later, she met at a soul food restaurant with young black men, some of them who were involved in the protests.
“You can tell some politicians are uncomfortable about African-Americans,” said Shaun Corbett, a barbershop owner who was at the meeting. “Hillary sat right down and started talking about the banana pudding.”
Corbett said Clinton didn’t mince words about the problems facing the black community.
“There’s not many white politicians who can say race is a problem,” he said. “It’s taboo.”