How Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton See Black Voters

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13:  Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) and Hillary Clinton take part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party's first presidential debate.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

How Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton See Black Voters

New campaign ads from Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are targeting two different demographics.

Published January 22, 2016

Watching the new Bernie Sanders TV ad, "America," reminds me of the hope and inspiration I felt when Barack Obama first ran for president.

Set to the cheerful folk music of Simon and Garfunkel's "America," the commercial starts with windmills turning in the background behind an American flag painted on a snow-covered barn. It shifts to a picturesque yellow clapboard building on a small town street. Then a scene of three red tugboats moored to a dock in the peaceful waters of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Later we see flags blowing in the breezy skyline of Des Moines, Iowa.

It's a simple, quiet view of America, interspersed with scenes of real people.

A mother and child in a park. A farmer couple tending to cows. Young creative types staring at their large-screen iMac computer monitors. A long-haired woman in a winter cap admiring a bearded hipster behind the counter in an independent coffee shop. Bespectacled millennials meeting over their MacBooks in another coffee shop. A young couple with glasses helping their child to eat. A bearded father walking with his daughter along a snow-covered sidewalk. Another farmer couple tossing hay. A middle-aged couple dancing at a Bernie Sanders rally. Two young women holding a Bernie sign while watching an event. 

Then for the first time we see the candidate, surrounded by supporters in a small-town backyard. Next he's leaning in to talk to a working-class man in overalls and a trucker cap. By this time, we've seen at least 30 people on screen, representing an idyllic image of America, but not one of them was Black.

The ad continues and introduces a few faces of color later on, but the overall impression of the spot is very white, working-class, small-town America. In other words, it's a perfect ad for states like Iowa, which is only 3 percent Black, and New Hampshire, which is just 1.5 percent Black.

Now compare the Bernie Sanders ad to Hillary Clinton's new spot, "Fighting for You." It starts with grainy footage of a young Hillary carrying a stack of law books through a law library. "I have spent my entire adult life looking for ways to even the odds to help people have a chance to get ahead," she says in the voice over.

The first scene outside the law firm shows Clinton bending over to shake hands with an older Black man in a crowd. Next she's plunging into a sea of supportive women of color. Then she's standing next to a smiling white boy in a body brace as he learns to walk along parallel bars.

The images are distinctly different from the Sanders campaign ad. A multi-racial group of kids hugging by a fountain in a park. A Latina woman playing with her infant in a rocking chair. A blonde-haired white baby running through a yard. A Latino student with a backpack. A woman working in the kitchen of a restaurant. Another woman, with goggles, operating a drill press. A Black man pushing a young Black girl on a swing. A student with a backpack walking and talking to a professor in a wheelchair. A young Asian girl reading a text book. A young Black couple sitting on a sofa. A dark-skinned Muslim woman wearing a hijab. Two gay men kissing and holding hands.

The Clinton ad continues on like this until the end. Black. White. Young. Old. Latin. Asian. Gay. Straight. And a woman with a ponytail climbing a rope.

"I'm fighting for all Americans, not just some," Clinton declares at a podium. "For the struggling, the striving and the successful. No matter who you are, what you look like, what faith you practice, or who you love, I am fighting for you," she announces.

Clinton continues: "I am fighting for everyone who's ever been knocked down but refused to be knocked out. I'm going to fight until every little girl in America knows she can grow up to be anything she wants, even president of the United States." The ad ends with a cheering crowd at Clinton's campaign kickoff rally last summer in New York City.

Clearly, Clinton and Sanders are running two different campaigns. Sanders appeals to rural and suburban white liberals and optimistic millennials, both of which are over represented in small-town early primary and caucus states. Clinton, on the other hand, appeals to women and African-American voters, and to the diverse array of people represented by New York City.

That puts Sanders in a great position to win Iowa and New Hampshire, but it won't be enough to stop Clinton from ultimately winning the nomination unless Sanders figures out how to broaden his base.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Written by Keith Boykin


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