As Sanders makes his way back to South Carolina, he hopes to court non-white voters, and is getting help from Dr. Cornel West.
Senator Sanders has been surging in recent polls in New Hampshire and Iowa, but another key state in the early nomination process still remains out of his reach: South Carolina. Nearly 28% of the Palmetto State’s population is black, a key racial demographic that critics have said Sanders’ campaign has not been reaching out to enough.
Sanders began his second swing through South Carolina in Columbia to a smaller crowd than he has often seen along his campaign, but probably the biggest difference besides the size of this crowd was that it was mostly black. With Dr. West introducing him as “brother Bernie Sanders”, the Vermont Senator set out to begin to address one of the major issues that has faced his campaign: many black voters still do not know who he is.
Dr. Cornel West, a respected academic and political voice, brings an energy and another African American voice to join Symone Sanders, to the ‘political revolution.’ Senator Sanders’ campaign has brought criticism from some camps for its drawing out of primarily white supporters and inability so far to make major in-roads with people of color. The added support of Dr. West will surely help Sanders reach a larger black audience, but there still is much work to be done by the campaign if it wishes to increase Bernie’s recognition within racial minority communities.
An early August Gallop poll showed that Sanders was familiar to only 33% of black adults. Those numbers won’t add up to a victory come primary season, when the highest percentage of voter turnout the last two Presidential elections has been non-Hispanic black voters.
The Sanders campaign seems to recognize this though, and after some early rocky encounters with Black Lives Matter activists at Netroots and a Social Security rally in Seattle this summer, Sanders message has increasingly included topics of economic inequality when it comes to race as well as racial injustice. Now Sanders eyes South Carolina as a crucial battleground for introducing himself to non-white voters, with three different events in the state that all include Dr. Cornel West as a key-note speaker.
South Carolina holds its primary on February 27th of next year, and a win for any candidate could build momentum in the southern states, states that have often carried Democrats to victory due to their high turnouts of black voters. Time will only tell if Sanders’ message can generate the same enthusiasm there as it has in Iowa and New Hampshire.