Bernie Sanders Plans On Playing The Long Game To Defeat Hillary Clinton, And It Hinges On Black Voters

Bernie Sanders knows he won’t be able to beat Hillary Clinton in February, and is embarking on a strategy to build his support beyond the first primaries and in doing so reach what could be his most important demographic — black voters.

As Sanders builds his lead in the polls for New Hampshire and pulls ahead of Clinton in Iowa, the Vermont Senator has also turned his attention to the more difficult states that will follow. He has invested considerable efforts into South Carolina, reaching out to black voters who to this point have tilted heavily toward Clinton.

As the New York Times noted, Bernie Sanders is attempting to lean on his strong record for civil rights and highlighting the issues that have a disproportionate impact on black voters.

“With a blitz of appearances, ads on black-oriented radio stations, a tour of historically black colleges and the help of well-known and not-so-well-known African-Americans, Mr. Sanders is racing to get the word out: He is a lifelong civil rights advocate who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He talks substantively about issues vital to many blacks, like ‘radically rethinking police procedures,’ even in front of all-white crowds. And the economic policies that he relentlessly argues would combat income inequality and injustice across the board, he says, apply all the more to persistent racial disparities in American life.”

“We have a real tragedy with youth unemployment,” Sanders said. “Kids who graduated high school who are white: 33 percent unemployed or underemployed. Latino: 36 percent. African-American: 51 percent.”

The emphasis on these issues is a change in tone from the early days, when some Sanders supporters were accused of talking down to black voters. This was especially true after two Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted a Sanders speech in Washington, an event that brought a negative reaction from some supporters followed by what some political pundits viewed as lectures about Sanders’ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

While Bernie Sanders has made inroads with black voters, it’s still an uphill climb, the New York Times noted. Sanders is currently the only candidate with net positive favorability ratings, but he is viewed favorably by only 43 percent of blacks polled by Gallup over the last six weeks. Clinton, by comparison, nets 86 percent.

The emphasis on black voters, if successful, could have implications for Sanders beyond his primary with Clinton. He has been building outreach efforts across many states, and could end up opening up new battlegrounds if he were to win the Democratic nomination.

As TIME noted, Barack Obama employed a similar “50 State Strategy” in the 2008 election, building his ground networks in all states as he took on Hillary Clinton. It was this strategy that allowed Obama to continue building momentum after his surprise Iowa victory and the setback that came next in New Hampshire.

As the report added, the strategy ended up boosting Obama in the general election, opening new fronts in states like Virginia and North Carolina where Democrats were traditionally not competitive:

“As it turns out, Obama’s phenomenal fund raising has allowed him to deliver on his bold promise and place staff in every one of the 50 states, as his campaign announced it would Monday. The strategy could force McCain to defend Republican strongholds, help those lonely Democratic candidates in so-called red states and further expand Obama’s already massive volunteer and donor bases (indeed, the move was announced in a fund-raising e-mail plea to donors).

“Obama is able to do this in part because of the grueling, drawn-out delegate fight with Clinton that only just ended. The long primary season forced the campaign to build bases of support for the Illinois Senator in every state.”

For Bernie Sanders, the success of his long-term strategy to win over black voters and defeat Hillary Clinton could still very much depend on how he performs in February. The Sanders campaign has noted that other candidates have received a boost after winning New Hampshire and Iowa, so the seeds he is planting now may only take root if he can follow through on the first step.

[AP Photo/Andrew Harnik]

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