Fri | Sep 20, 2019

Sanders reaches out to black SC voters before 2020 decision

Published:Thursday | January 24, 2019 | 12:19 AM
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrations at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, SC, on Monday, January 21.
Following a Martin Luther King Jr. prayer service at Zion Baptist Church in Columbia, SC, on Monday, New Jersey Sen Cory Booker (left), and Sen.Bernie Sanders walk with NAACP President Brenda Murphy during a march to the Statehouse.


Even before he announces whether he’s a 2020 presidential candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders is working to avoid the drubbing that South Carolina’s African-American voters handed him in 2016.

A day after speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally in the state capital on Monday, Sanders stayed through Tuesday for three more events in which African-American audiences were receptive to a message that hewed largely to his 2016 Democratic presidential platform. But the Vermont independent got personal even as he pitched free college tuition and a higher minimum wage, recounting repeatedly that he joined King’s 1963 March on Washington and calling the late civil rights leader a “major political influence on my thinking”.


Asked Tuesday at historically black Benedict College about marching with King, Sanders joked with students that “this kind of dates me a little bit” and added that it “was one of the important days in my life”.

For the famously cantankerous senator, who laboured to connect with black voters during his first White House bid, the more intimate touches in this week’s South Carolina swing showed that he knows he can’t neglect the bellwether early voting state if he runs again. With one leading black candidate already declared in California Senator Kamala Harris, and a second potential contender in New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Sanders would face even stiffer competition here in 2020 than he did in 2016, when Hillary Clinton brought strong ties to African-American communities.