Emeka Forbes

Naked Politics Blogger

Despite the unexpected rise of Bernie Sanders, a candidate viewed as ‘leftist’ by many, the name that has dominated the race for the democratic presidential nomination so far has been Hillary Clinton.

Clinton seems to have won the hearts of many of America’s black voters and she is capitalising on that support to win sweeping victories against Mr. Sanders in state after state. But how reliant on black voters has her campaign become, and will it be enough to propel her into the white house?

On Super Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton clinched wins in 7 southern states, each with a rich African American demographic. According to CBS polling, Clinton managed to secure 91% of the Black vote in Alabama, and in Oklahoma which was won by Mr. Sanders, and where she performed worst with black voters, she still amassed a 71% share of state’s black vote.

Early data from Super Saturday over the weekend suggests that Hillary Clinton is continuing to keep her momentum going as she engages with African American voters in a way that Bernie Sanders has struggled to do.

In an attempt to fix Mr. Sanders’ problem reaching black voters, his campaign team released what the New Statesman called “one of the most powerful political adverts in history” which features Erica Garner, the activist and daughter of Eric Garner who was choked to death by police in New York in 2014 and became a central part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Unfortunately, some commentators have called this attempt by Sanders an afterthought and expressed doubt that it will make any real difference to his popularity with African Americans at such a late stage in the day.

Mr. Sanders simply hasn’t had to speak to the issues that affect African Americans in the way that Hillary Clinton has, partially as a result of the 8 years she spent serving as Governor of New York – a state with the 13th highest population of African Americans in the US according to the 2010 census.

Along with her husband, Bill Clinton’s legacy, Mrs. Clinton may have had a significant head start in winning the support of black voters from much earlier on than many outsiders may have realised. Opinions on whether Bill Clinton was a truly good president for African Americans is still split, but what does seem clear is that he was popular. This popularity, be it deserved or not, has helped provide Hillary with a near perfect springboard on which to mobilise black voters and bolster her campaign.

Although America’s first black president, Barack Obama, has deliberately remained tight-lipped during the democratic race, refusing to endorse any candidate, Hillary Clinton arguably remains his obvious successor. Speaking to CNN, former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in February that “[Obama] would prefer to see her [Hillary Clinton] as the nominee” and that although he wanted to remain neutral, he had “signalled” that he supported Secretary Clinton’s candidacy.

Obama’s suspected support and Hillary’s role as Secretary of State in his administration will be enough to throw a little weight on her campaign from the perspective of black voters, but in an “I have black friends” kind of way, rather than anything more meaningful.

With African Americans expected to make up a significant proportion of voters in the US election, Hillary will find that their support goes a long way towards putting her in the Oval Office, but engaging with black voters alone won’t be enough. Running as the first ever female president, Mrs. Clinton will have the support of plenty of women, but she will also have to work hard for the Hispanic vote, as well as potentially courting moderate republicans away from Mr. Trump if she is elected as the democratic nominee and Trump winds up triumphing over Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio.

The fact is that so far, Hillary has proved herself to be versatile and amid America’s complex political backdrop, versatility is exactly what’s needed to get to the white house. Black voters will certainly get her close, but Mrs. Clinton still has her work cut out, to bridge the gap and make a home run of her impressive-up-till-now campaign.

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Last Update: April 29, 2018