Bernie Sanders’ campaign rally in downtown Baltimore on Saturday ahead of Maryland’s Democratic primary on Tuesday came a year after protests and riots rocked the city following the death of African-American Freddie Gray in police custody. The unresolved issue for Bernie Sanders as he campaigns in Maryland remains how to connect with black voters.
Maryland population is about one-third black, and polls show that Sanders is trailing behind Clinton thanks to black voters.
Analysts note that the major factor responsible for Sanders’ failure against Clinton has been the inability of his campaign to make inroads among black voters. He lost to Clinton in New York due largely to the failure to sway the black vote in his favor. According to the Wall Street Journal, black voters constituted nearly a quarter of the Democratic electorate in New York, and exit polls showed that they favored Clinton by a 50-point margin.
Clinton reportedly won on Tuesday in New York among Democratic African-American voters by a three-to-one margin.
After losing to Clinton in New York, Sanders needs desperately to win at least some of upcoming primaries in five other states on Tuesday, April 26, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware.
Sanders has tried to reach out to black voters in Maryland with the help of a former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, a popular local pastor, and African-American actor Danny Glover, who has spoken glowingly of Sanders’ record of commitment to civil rights.
But despite efforts by the Sanders campaign to woo black voters through the endorsement of black celebrities, intellectuals, and activists, the mostly-white audience of about 6,000 at the rally served a painful reminder of the failure of the campaign to make significant inroads among black voters.
Latest polls show that Clinton has a 33-point lead over Sanders in the Maryland primaries, according to the Baltimore Sun, thanks again to black voters.
Sanders was introduced at the Baltimore rally by local black activist Kwame Rose, who attempted to invoke memories of last year’s protests over Freddie Gray’s death, saying, “Last year we took to the streets, but it is up to us to take to the polls in Baltimore.”
Rose’s comments before a mostly-white audience reflect the sense of alienation from mainstream politics that unites Sanders’ supporters in fervent commitment to their candidate. Rose said he was never inspired to vote until Sanders emerged. The activist warned gloomily that if Sanders fails to secure the nomination, then “we may lose everything we have.”
In his speech at the rally, Sanders focused as usual on his core message of economic inequality. He paused to reel out figures about income inequality in Baltimore with reference to the black community. He noted that some black neighborhoods in Baltimore have a higher infant mortality “than the West Bank in Palestine” and 20 years lower life expectancy than neighboring communities.
The Guardian reports that Daniel Hall, a black Sanders supporter who attended the rally from Cockeysville in Maryland, was disillusioned to see the mostly-white crowd and expressed frustration at the refusal of black voters to give Sanders a chance.
“Even here there are not even a lot of us and there should be,” he said dejectedly.
According to Hall, low black support for Sanders was due simply to the fact that most blacks were not familiar with Sanders and had not heard his populist message. He argued that most blacks were being swayed by the unabashed “pandering” of politicians and described Clinton as “a sleazy pastor who will say anything to get that offering.”
According Vox, a Winthrop University political science professor, Scott Huffmon, said the advantage the Clintons have over Sanders is a long history, spanning three decades, of building relationship with black communities, black elites, black institutions, and voters across the country. Clinton is well-known and a household name among blacks. Sanders is comparatively unknown.
[Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP Images]