As the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primaries — as well as Super Tuesday — draw nearer for the Democratic presidential candidates, they are all acknowledging just how important voters of color have become to their campaigns. While some may be wrenching their hands on how to convince more of us to support them, others aren’t laying comfortable in the notion that they at least have a foothold in these communities.
Before tonight’s debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, four candidates took to the Sunday news programs this weekend to speak about their interaction with America’s nonwhite electorate and the crucial role these voters play in the path to the Democratic party nomination and ultimately the White House.
“You can't win – you can't take it for granted. Last time we ran it was basically taken for granted," former Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC's "Meet the Press,” noting that Black voters have given their support to Democrats ever since Jimmy Carter was president in the 1970s.
Biden still leads the polls among Black voters nationwide, but his popularity has certainly taken a roundhouse punch. In January he led with 49 percent of African American support, but in a Feb. 10 Quinnipiac University poll, that lead slipped 22 percentage points to 27 percent.
Biden, who enjoyed recognition and steadfast support from African Americans through his link to former President Barack Obama, did not perform particularly well in the Iowa caucus or the New Hampshire primary and chose to focus instead on South Carolina, with two-thirds of its voters being Black, to bolster his campaign. However, a surge of advertising from rival candidate Michael Bloomberg targeted at African Americans and those younger Black voters who lean more towards supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders has threatened what once seemed like a foothold.
“He’s the favorite of my [19-year-old] son and all his friends,” Rev. Ray McKinnon told South Carolina newspaper The State. McKinnon is Black, a member of the Democratic National Committee and running for Mecklenburg County commissioner. He supported Sanders in 2016.
“They’re amenable to his call for revolution. For so long, we’ve been told to wait, as Dr. King said. ... No, we’re tired of that. This election is too important.”
Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is polling at only four percent among African Americans despite spending months trying to figure out how to better reach the Black community, said on “Fox News Sunday” that he’ll fare better after the Nevada caucus and South Carolina primary once he shows that he’s the one who can beat President Donald Trump.
“For so many voters and certainly for a lot of voters of color that I talked to across the Latino, the Black and the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) communities, it’s about making sure that we get this right,” Buttigieg said. “The Senate demonstrated that it’s not going to hold this president accountable...in 2020 it is our only shot...we dare not get this wrong, and that means nominating a candidate who can challenge this President on his own terms.”
He is reportedly focusing on pockets of Black voters across South Carolina to garner support, but he has yet to make the inroads that Biden has made.
“He’s very capable, and he has the money, but the network and the money without the people with him isn’t good enough,” said South Carolina State Sen. Gerald Malloy. “There’s time, but I’m not sure how much.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar didn’t have much ammunition to explain why her support from minority voters is virtually non-existent.
“I need people to get to know me,” she said on ABC’s “This Week,” noting she’s typically received high support in all of my elections with the Hispanic and African-American communities in my state." Be that as it may, Qunnipiac’s poll literally has her at zero nationwide among Blacks. In a Monmouth University poll, she ranks at a measly 1 percent among Blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans.
Nonetheless, she feels positive about her chances going into the next two states, saying she wasn’t well funded enough before, but now she’s able to run ads in Nevada and South Carolina. She feels it could be a significant turnaround for her campaign.
“My name identification in states outside of the early few states was not that high simply because I didn’t have the money, like [Mike] Bloomberg, to run more ads during your show that I am on being interviewed. I get that,” Klobuchar said. “Now, we’re finally able — finally — to run ads in Nevada, to run ads in South Carolina and beyond. That is a big difference.”
The surprise factor among Democrats, though, is the surge Bloomberg has made namely because of his huge ad campaigns which have hit states that are crucial to other candidates. Much of the messaging has been targeted to African Americans with reportedly more than $400 million being spent on television, radio and online advertising.
Bloomberg won the endorsement of Columbia, S.C., Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin among other major Democratic supporters. This, despite several apologies he’s made over the last few weeks because of the anti-crime “stop and frisk” policy perpetuated in New York City while he was mayor as well as controversial comments made about redlining and minority males in the workplace.
As Bloomberg turns towards the 14-state voting carnival on March 3 known as Super Tuesday, he does so with a number of Black backers behind him.
"I've encouraged the mayor to run," Mayor Benjamin told CBS News in November. "It's a process he's going through with himself and I'm sure through prayer and consideration with his closest advisers. But I think he'd be an excellent President."
Tonight’s two-hour debate in Las Vegas, Nevada will be Bloomberg’s first appearance and test on a national stage with the other Democratic candidates. It’s likely that Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, Biden, and Klobuchar will focus on his billions and tenuous record as mayor while also trying to remind voters why they are the better choice.
The 2020 Democratic Debate in will be hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, Noticias Telemundo and The Nevada Independent at the Paris Theater in Las Vegas, beginning on February 19 at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT.
Photo by: Timothy A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images