Insiders Tell How Sanders Lost The Black Vote And The Nomination Slipped Away

Written by Ann Brown
Insiders reveal how Bernie Sanders lost the Black vote to former Vice President Joe Biden and let the nomination slip away. Volunteers wave signs during a campaign event for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Months ago, things seemed to be going Sen. Bernie Sanders’ way. He had the media’s attention, celebrity endorsements, and was making some inroads with the coveted Black vote. Then the South Carolina primaries happened.

In swooped former Vice President Joe Biden who captured the state’s much-wanted Black vote. He beat Sander by 28 points. “Exit polls suggest Biden had support from 61 percent of Black voters, compared to Sanders’ paltry 17 percent,” Mother Jones reported.

The end may be nearing for Sanders, though he vows to continue campaigning for the Democrat nomination.

So how did Sanders lose the Black vote and possibly the nomination?

“I knew that our campaign had not done the work it needed to do,” sais Donald Gilliard, a Sanders supporter and deputy state political director, in a The Washington Post interview. Gilliard said he felt the campaign’s strategy was “geared toward white progressives,” leaving Black voters behind.

Mal Hyman, a former congressional candidate and a Sanders surrogate in South Carolina, agreed. “We knew we were vulnerable,” he said.

“The loss underlined one of the fundamental failings of the Sanders campaign: He was unable to win the trust of African-American voters. As the 78-year-old democratic socialist considers how long to continue his historic campaign, his disconnect from Black voters threatens to sharply limit his influence in a party that is soon expected to belong to Biden,” The Washington Post reported.

Although Sanders tried to build a diverse coalition, attracting millennials, working-class whites, and Latinos, he did well in only three states — states with few Black voters.

African Americans felt disconnected from him. “I think the distinguishing attitude for Sanders, that you didn’t see associated with Biden, was an angry white man,” said Ivory Thigpen, a state representative who served as co-chair for Sanders in South Carolina. “In the African American culture,” he said, “nonverbal communication and body language is huge.”

“If we’d been a little bit closer in South Carolina, we would have the momentum instead of Biden going into Super Tuesday,” said Raymond Corley, who served as political director for the Sanders campaign in South Carolina.

Political insiders also say Sanders picked the wrong person to try and woo South Carolina Black voters. He sent his campaign co-chair, Nina Turner, an African-American woman and political player in Ohio with few ties to South Carolina. “She didn’t know the state,” said Gilliard, who left the campaign after the Feb. 29 primary.

Turner, however, said the campaign depended on local talent, including Gilliard. “I have a keen understanding of the Black community,” she said. “The overwhelming majority of (South Carolina staffers), including him, understood the state. And he was hired to do a job.”

There were plenty of missed opportunities for Sanders to connect to Black voters in the state and beyond, and win the nomination. When it was suggested that he meet with a convention of Baptist ministers, according to Gilliard, the plan was rejected by higher-ups.

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Sanders’ people started their advertising campaign in the state late — only a month before the primary.

Also, key people had jumped ship from the campaign before the primary. Then-state director Kwadjo Campbell left in November.

“I have not been able to do my job of building a base in the African-American community because of interference from National on a number of critical strategic decisions that have impeded our ability to gain traction among this key demographic needed for victory,” Campbell wrote.

Campaign co-chairwoman Turner sees it another way.

Turner said that some of what Campbell suggested wasn’t even legal. “Some of the partnerships that he proposed did not comport with campaign finance laws,” Turner said, adding that many of his other ideas were “carried forward.” Campbell declined to comment.

Sanders seems to be repeating the same mistakes from his 2016 campaign, which he has admitted was “too white.”