Black vot­ers power Bi­den’s suc­cess

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kat Stafford and Han­nah Finger­hut

DETROIT >> Joe Bi­den’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign spent the past month on the verge of col­lapse af­ter dis­ap­point­ing fin­ishes in the over­whelm­ingly white states that launched the Demo­cratic pri­mary. As he watched the tur­moil un­fold from Gads­den, Alabama, Robert Avery thought the race would change dra­mat­i­cally when it moved into the South.

“He knows us, he cares about us,” the 71-year-old com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer said. “Peo­ple have given us no credit as to know­ing what’s go­ing on or be­ing in­volved, and that’s the fur­thest thing from the truth.”

It turns out Avery’s in­stinct was right.

Af­ter a bru­tal Fe­bru­ary for Bi­den, black vot­ers through­out the South trans­formed Bi­den’s White House bid over the course of three days. A back-of-the-pack op­er­a­tion surged to front-run­ner sta­tus pow­ered by sup­port from black vot­ers, start­ing with Bi­den’s com­mand­ing win Satur­day in South Carolina and com­ing into full fo­cus on Su­per Tues­day as he racked up wins in Vir­ginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Ten­nessee.

Bi­den is now in a tight race with pro­gres­sive ri­val Bernie San­ders, who emerged as the ini

tial Demo­cratic leader af­ter strong per­for­mances in Iowa, New Hamp­shire and Ne­vada last month. Ac­tivists said Bi­den’s suc­cess is a re­minder that the path to vic­tory in the Demo­cratic con­test runs straight through their com­mu­ni­ties.

“You can’t win the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion with­out win­ning the South, and you can’t win the South with­out the black vote, and you can’t win the black vote with­out win­ning the black women’s vote,” said Melanie Camp­bell, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Coali­tion on Black Civic Par­tic­i­pa­tion. “We be­lieve all roads to the White House must come through the South.”

Black vot­ers strongly aligned be­hind Bi­den over other can­di­dates, ac­cord­ing to AP VoteCast sur­veys across eight Su­per Tues­day states. In Alabama, where African Amer­i­can vot­ers made up a ma­jor­ity of the Demo­cratic pri­mary elec­torate, roughly 7 in 10 sup­ported the for­mer vice pres­i­dent. That sup­port held across ages and gen­der.

In other states, like Texas, Vir­ginia and North Carolina, black vot­ers made up a smaller but siz­able share of Demo­cratic pri­mary vot­ers. While a ma­jor­ity of both black men and women sup­ported Bi­den, San­ders did pull about even with Bi­den among black vot­ers un­der 45.

Bi­den will be look­ing to carry that mo­men­tum into next week’s six pri­maries that will in­clude states like Michi­gan and Mis­sis­sippi, which are also home to sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tions of black vot­ers. More than 78% of res­i­dents in Detroit, Michi­gan’s largest city, are African Amer­i­can.

The for­mer vice pres­i­dent’s suc­cess also poses warn­ing signs for San­ders. The Ver­mont sen­a­tor’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was un­suc­cess­ful in part be­cause he couldn’t line up enough sup­port from black vot­ers in the South to win the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion.

Since 2016, San­ders has fo­cused on build­ing re­la­tion­ships with black lead­ers and vot­ers. He fre­quently speaks of a mul­tira­cial coali­tion that will help him win the nom­i­na­tion and the White House. But Tues­day’s re­sults — com­bined with his dis­tant sec­ond­place fin­ish in South Carolina — sug­gest he could face sim­i­lar chal­lenges in 2020.

San­ders has warned in re­cent days that the party’s elite es­tab­lish­ment is align­ing to thwart his cam­paign. But Bi­den al­lies pointed to their suc­cess with a di­verse set of vot­ers on Tues­day to re­but that.

“I just did not know that African Amer­i­cans in the South were con­sid­ered part of the es­tab­lish­ment,” said Louisiana Demo­cratic Rep. Cedric Rich­mond, Bi­den’s cam­paign co-chair­man.

“African Amer­i­cans vot­ers have made a con­scious de­ci­sion that we fought and earned through civil rights,” Rich­mond said, be­cause they un­der­stand the im­por­tance of “nom­i­nat­ing a per­son that they know, nom­i­nat­ing a per­son that can win.”

Ni­ambi Carter, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at Howard Univer­sity, said the race shifted in Bi­den’s fa­vor af­ter he nabbed an en­dorse­ment from South Carolina Rep. Jim Cly­burn, the high­est-rank­ing black mem­ber of Congress. Carter said Cly­burn is a beloved and trusted fig­ure in the black com­mu­nity.

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Peo­ple wait to at­tend a cam­paign rally for Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den on Tues­day in Los An­ge­les.

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