Hopes populist message will connect with minority voters

- Nicole Gaudiano Becky Morton

ROCK HILL , S. C. The sudden ascendancy of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidenti­al campaign has stunned even the Vermont independen­t himself.

Four months after he announced his bid for the Democratic nomination, Sanders is drawing huge crowds, leading polls and unexpected­ly shaking up the race as support for his populist message threatens the powerhouse operation of former secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Once dismissed as a long shot, Sanders now is focused on the challenges of branching out and connecting with African-American and Hispanic voters.

Sanders made his second trip as a candidate this weekend to South Carolina, the first southern primary state where he’ll face a Democratic electorate that will be largely African-American.

“We have an agenda that makes sense to all Americans, but to be honest with you, it makes more sense for the African-American community because of the economic problems facing that community in terms of higher unemployme­nt, lower wages, a harder time sending their kids to college,” Sanders said Saturday.

He held three public events in South Carolina, including a town hall meeting in Columbia at historical­ly black Benedict College. In Florence, S.C., he met with about 50 leaders and elected officials, most of whom were black and many of whom went into the meeting thinking they were committed to Clinton, said author and activist Cornel West. “It’s clear that they are rethinking their position,” West said. “I think that we’re going to be in for some surprises in the black community in South Carolina.”

Since he formally announced his campaign in May, Sanders has increased his focus on such issues and the need to combat poverty among African Americans.

Benedict freshman Dajana Baker, 19, of Greenville, S.C., said it’s important that Sanders continue to discuss issues involving race. “If we continue to ignore that in this country, it’s just creating denial and deceit,” she said.

People also have been drawn to Sanders’ proposals to help poor and middle-class Americans, such as providing free college tuition at public schools, creating jobs with infrastruc­ture investment­s and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Becky Morton, 60, of Charlotte, was among about 3,000 who attended a rally at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., on Saturday. “He’s probably far more to the left than I’ve ever been,” said Morton. “But … at least he’s pulling the conversati­on back to where I think the Democratic Party should be.”

A CBS News/ YouGov poll released Sunday showed Sanders leads Clinton by 10 percentage points in Iowa and 22 percentage points in New Hampshire. The poll showed 23% of South Carolina’s likely Democratic voters supported Sanders, compared with 46% for Clinton and 22% for Vice President Biden, who has not entered the race.

Scott Huffmon, director of the Winthrop Poll, said Sanders’ difficulty is that his rallies have been drawing attendees who are predominan­tly white attendees, while young black voters are like- ly to make up more than half of the Democratic primary electorate in the Palmetto State. “He needs to make himself known to this group that’s going to be absolutely critical,” he said.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the state’s only Democrat in Congress, said he expects Clinton to sweep South Carolina — under present conditions. Clinton, who came in second in the 2008 South Carolina primary, has lined up support from dozens of mayors and community officials, along with two former governors.

But Clyburn said the race here could be greatly impacted by outcomes in Iowa and New Hampshire, whether Vice President Joe Biden enters the race, and Clinton’s Oct. 22 congressio­nal testimony on her role leading up to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. “A lot depends on how that hearing comes out,” said Clyburn, who won’t endorse a candidate until after the primary.

Sanders plans to open more offices in South Carolina. But he also needs to invest in staff and look into advertisin­g in Super Tuesday states and beyond. He scheduled events on Sunday in North Carolina and on Monday in Virginia, including a speech at the evangelica­l Christian Liberty University.

“We are now preparing for a full national campaign that goes beyond the first four states and given the enthusiasm that I am seeing as I go around this country, to be honest with you, we are feeling very, very good about where we are,” he said.

“He’s probably far more to the left than I’ve ever been ... but he’s pulling (the talk to) where I think (Democrats) should be.”


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