Bernie Sanders had breakfast with Reverend Al Sharpton in Harlem’s Sylvia’s Restaurant. That might not sound like much, but it might come as ominous news for Hillary Clinton. Right now, the former Secretary of State is favored among Democrat African-American voters, but there’s still plenty of time in the race for that to change. As some observers have put it, Al Sharpton’s meeting is one way of saying his endorsement should not be taken for granted.
According to the New York Daily News, Sharpton, who was invited to the breakfast by the Sanders campaign, said the two spoke about issues affecting African-Americans, including Flint’s water crisis, affirmative action, and police brutality.
“My concern is that in January of next year, for the first time in American history, a black family will be moving out of the White House. I do not want black concerns to be moved out with them.”
African-American and other non-white voters pose a problem for Bernie Sanders. Statistician Nate Silver is currently giving the Vermont Senator a 5 percent chance of winning the South Carolina primary, based in part on the fact that Clinton still has a commanding lead with African-American voters.
According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 67 percent of non-white voters support Clinton (compared to only 28 percent for Bernie Sanders). While 45 percent of white voters are for Clinton, 43 percent for Sanders.
Still, the senator’s approval rating among non-white voters has gone from 28 percent to 51 in roughly eight months as some rocky moments early in the campaign fade from memory.
Bernie Sanders had two high-profile confrontations with the Black Lives Matter movement early in his bid for the presidency that helped shape a negative image. In July, Sanders was set to give a speech in Arizona after Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley when Black Lives Matter activists arrived on the scene.
O’Malley took some political missteps, saying “all lives matter” and tried to compare the experience of African Americans to that of Irish Americans. Sanders, described by CNN as a Netroots Nation favorite at the time, attempted to get his message out over the shouting crowd.
“Black lives, of course, matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and for dignity. But if you don’t want me to be here, that’s OK. I don’t want to outscream people.”
Then again, in August, Black Lives Matter activists took the stage at a Sanders event in Seattle, driving the presidential candidate from the event. The rally started a heated debate within the movement about their tactics, according to Al Jazeera, and prompted the Vermont senator to release a detailed proposal for addressing racial justice.
Hillary Clinton was also interrupted at a campaign event by Black Lives Matter activists in October, but that confrontation received noticeably less media attention. Hillary Clinton’s lead among African Americans appears to be partially built on the legacy of her husband Bill Clinton, who also had the community’s support despite policies in the “war on drugs” that led to a disproportionate number of black citizens being incarcerated.
Now, after the New Hampshire primary, some holes in Clinton’s blanket support from minority voters are starting to show. Angela Bronner-Helm was interviewed by the New York Daily News for the meeting between Al Sharpton and Sanders, explaining that she wants to start a “Harlem for Bernie” group and thinks Bill Clinton harmed the community.
“Her husband’s policies affected my community in a very negative way. I think the Clintons have taken the African-American votes for granted.”
CBS News reported that former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous also officially endorsed Bernie, explaining “there is no candidate in this race who is fiercer in standing up for those who need allies in the struggle than Bernie Sanders.”
Acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is also backing the Vermont senator.
As for the Al Sharpton breakfast, the photo opportunity is a likely boost for Sanders as well, but the reverend did not give his endorsement yet. Sharpton will reportedly meet with Clinton before deciding which candidate has his vote.
[Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images]