Black Community Support For Clinton Under Scrutiny

Kerry Picket Political Reporter
Font Size:

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton may not have a complete lock on the African American vote.

Despite the endorsement she received from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) PAC, younger leaders in the black community are already announcing their support for Sanders.

Civil rights activist Erica Garner, the eldest daughter of Eric Garner who died when the New York Police Department attempted to arrest him two years ago, threw her support behinds Sanders on Thursday in a video message.

“I feel like a representative for people throughout this whole nation because I’m doing this — I’m speaking out,” Erica says of her work after her father’s death. “I’m never giving up. I’m never going to forget and I don’t want the world to forget what happened to my dad.”

“I’m behind anyone who’s going to listen and speak up for us, and I think we need to believe in a leader like Bernie Sanders,” Garner says. “That’s why I’m for Bernie.”

Ta-Nehesi Coates, a popular black essayist, endorsed Sanders on Wednesday and VOX writer Victoria Massie shredded Clinton’s credibility with black Americans in a piece titled, “The Clintons’ long history of pandering to young black voters like me.”

Minnesota Democratic Rep. [crscore]Keith Ellison[/crscore] sent out a tweet, when the CBC PAC endorsement was made official this morning, to explain the difference between the CBC and the CBC PAC and to criticize the congressional group for not including all members of the caucus in the decision making process.

Ellison’s tweets came as Dem. Rep. [crscore]John Lewis[/crscore], another CBC member and prominent figure of the 1960s civil rights movement, questioned Sanders’ own participation in the movement. Differences in opinion among younger and older black voters may hinge upon how much the youth vote is willing to trust what older black leaders tell them about Clinton and Sanders.

The CBC PAC is chaired by New York Democratic Rep. [crscore]Gregory Meeks[/crscore]. The PAC is composed of a 20-person board comprised of seven CBC members, lobbyists, lawyers and consultants, Mother Jones points out.

CBC members who participated in the civil rights movement during their own youth hope to successfully relay their enthusiasm for Clinton to the young black community as well as plant doubts in their minds about Sanders’ candidacy

“I never saw him. I never met [Sanders],” Lewis said. “I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved with the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed (the) voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President [Bill] Clinton.”

South Carolina Democrat Rep. [crscore]James Clyburn[/crscore], whose endorsement is considered a valuable asset, told The Daily Caller on Thursday night that “a lot of [young black voters] are “feeling the Bern’” in his state.

Clyburn, himself, has yet to endorse either Clinton or Sanders.

“No one has a lock on the African American community,” Clyburn reminded reporters. Former NAACP president Ben Jealous, who endorsed Sanders recently, made a similar statement saying that he found it “offensive for the Clinton campaign to take the black vote for granted.”

Clyburn explained his hesitation to endorse a candidate well before voting day because an early declaration of support may do more harm to South Carolina’s primary.

“I don’t want to damage my primary. I think I’ve said that for 10 years now. I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize South Carolina not being in the key primary window,” he said. “And I don’t want any candidate using me as an excuse not to show up in the state. I think that’s pretty legitimate.”

CBC member Rep. [crscore]Danny Davis[/crscore] told TheDC that while the youth vote could be beneficial for the Vermont senator, he does not see young black voter support for Sanders helping him defeat Clinton.

“It could, but I don’t think it will. I think the combination will be more than Bernie will be able to overcome to the extent of getting the majority of African American Community’s support,” Davis said. “I just think that the Clinton familiarity is so great among African Americans of a certain age group who have been around as long as she’s been around.”

He added, “But [the black youth] vote the least. I’m saying I wish they voted more but they vote the least, not the most,” noting he is hoping for a high youth turnout regardless.

CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield agrees with Lewis’ view on Sanders, telling TheDC that Sanders is late to the civil rights movement as far as any support from black youth is concerned.

“Sen. Sanders should have done it a long time ago. Bernie’s a friend and I know his commitment to civil rights, but it pales in comparison to Mrs. Clinton’s commitment to civil rights and equal rights under law,” Butterfield explained. “She has been fighting this battle for a long time—she and Bill Clinton both. And so we have a level of comfort with the Clintons that we don’t have with any other presidential candidate. “

CBC member Rep. Gregory Meeks said that black youth support is becoming an issue only because of the last two primary contests.

“Well, what I will say is there is a lot of talk, because of what took place in New Hampshire and Iowa. And for me, when you look at New Hampshire and Iowa, there’s not a lot of black people there—period. So we were not focused on that and our endorsement has come out subsequent thereto, because, then we can talk about the issues,” he said, adding that Clinton is the candidate who has been “right on guns.”

“One of the things that’s most important things to black youth is whether they’ll live past the age of 18 or not and that deals with guns. And we know who has been right on the gun issue—trying to keep guns off the streets for these young black folks so that we can make sure we’re not having them kill one another and getting involved in those kinds of scenarios. That’s Hillary Clinton and we know who has been on the wrong side of that issue.”

Meeks says that supporters of Clinton in the black community will reach out to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUS) as a way to gain support for the former secretary of state.

“The strongest advocate for HBCUS is Hillary Clinton. I don’t know where Bernie Sanders has been or knows the issue about it but he’s been silent,” Meeks said.

CBC member Missouri Rep. Lacy Clay, a supporter of Clinton, told TheDC his own college-age daughter is a Sanders supporter.

“We’re talking different generations. My daughter is a senior in college and she’s going to Bernie’s rally tomorrow at Spelman College in Atlanta and she has to make her own choices. I told her, ‘your father has endorsed Hillary.’ But they are independent thinkers. They have a different view of the world, and they haven’t had as much experience as some of us, and so they have a right to be with whom they want.”

CBC member Florida Rep. [crscore]Alcee Hastings[/crscore], however, says his son and daughter will be supporting Clinton like he is. According to Hastings, he has ideas in Florida on how to reach millenials. The Clinton campaign, Hastings says, will be in his state on Monday so he can discuss strategy with their  operatives as well as speak briefly with Mrs. Clinton about future campaign plans.

Democrats will know for sure where young black voters stand this month when they go to caucus in Nevada, where Latinos and blacks represented one-sixth of the 2008 primary contest, and South Carolina, where blacks were 55 percent of the Democratic vote in the 2008 primary.

Follow Kerry on Twitter