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Politics & Government

Black Voters Favor Hillary Clinton Over Bernie Sanders, Early Voting Shows


The crowd at many Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders rallies have been notably distinct. Clinton events often have large numbers of African-Americans. Sanders' do not. The Vermont senator has been struggling to expand his base of support to include people of color. And to talk more about this, we're joined now by Jamal Simmons. He's a political analyst who advised the Democratic National Committee during President Obama's first campaign. And we reached him in Detroit, Mich., which by the way is one of the states voting today. Good morning.

JAMAL SIMMONS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What is Hillary Clinton doing that Bernie Sanders is not when it comes to the African-American vote?

SIMMONS: Well, first of all, Hillary Clinton has a long history with her husband in working in African-American communities, so people know her. Secondly, African-American women are the number one voting block really in the country. They outperformed everyone else in 2012. And she's got a card to play with African-American women about being the first woman president. So I think you're seeing that hold some sway. Here in Detroit, where I am from and where the campaign is going to have a primary today, I was at a Hillary Clinton rally last night. I saw this diversity of crowd. Bernie Sanders is in places like Kalamazoo, Mich., Ann Arbor, where he's talking to students. And he's doing a great job of getting young people out. And younger African-Americans are interested in him. So the question is, what he's getting at young people support, will he get those young people to actually show up at the polls is the real question for his campaign.

MONTAGNE: Now, Bernie Sanders would argue - and some of these younger people understand that or back that - that he has fought his whole life for criminal justice and economic equality to issues very important to African-American voters. But let's listen to something Sanders said at this weekend's debate with Hillary Clinton when asked about racial blind spots in American society.


BERNIE SANDERS: When you're white you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto. You don't know what it's like to be poor. You don't know what it's like to be hassled when you walk down the street or when you get dragged out of a car.

MONTAGNE: Now, there's been a lot of blowback about that remark. Why?

SIMMONS: Well, first of all, there are poor whites, so some whites do know what it's like to be poor. And not all African-Americans are poor and not all African-Americans live in ghettos. In fact, not even the majority of African-Americans live in ghettos. The majority of African-Americans, they live in the rural South or they live in American suburbs. And you could be middle-class, so you could be -not everyone lives in a ghetto. And you could still be harassed. So it sort of - it showed a little bit of a - not a deafness but a uncomfortableness with African-Americans and the issues they face when it comes from - it just wasn't handled really very well.

MONTAGNE: Is that a bit generational? That is to say Bernie Sanders' generation?

SIMMONS: I think it is generational. He also - I mean, perhaps this is what it was like in Brooklyn in the 1960s and 70s and when he was on campuses and doing work. And maybe, you know, living in Vermont, there aren't that many African-Americans there. But younger African-Americans, though, I don't think it matters as much because what they like is his focus on the economic issues. There's a great deal of concern among younger African-Americans around criminal justice issues, which they see the 1994 crime bill that President Clinton passed as a real issue for that. The question, though, is, can he get those younger African-Americans to turn out? Older African-Americans remember the fact that Bill Clinton hit the lowest African-American unemployment rate, I think in 40 years the lowest African-American poverty rate in our lifetime to that point. And so all of that was undone sort of during the Bush years and Bush recession. But before that, African-Americans had done pretty well under the Clintons. And I think Hillary Clinton is getting rewarded for that.

MONTAGNE: Well, just - we only just have a few seconds here. But the former president of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, recently endorsed Bernie Sanders, comparing him to Martin Luther King. What about that?

SIMMONS: (Laughter) You know, Ben Jealous is an enthusiastic supporter - he's an enthusiastic supporter of Bernie Sanders. And so he gets to say all sorts of things like that. And I think there are a lot of younger African-Americans who really do agree with him. This campaign will have - we'll see what it does in terms of turnouts. Again, middle-aged African-Americans are the most likely ones to show up. And so far they have been siding with Hillary.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, thank you very much.

SIMMONS: Thank you. It's fun to be here.

MONTAGNE: Jamal Simmons is a Democratic strategist with the Washington consulting firm The Raven Group. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.