Former Democratic 2020 presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders needs a big comeback after losing 10 of 14 Super Tuesday states on March 3. But his bid to gain ground on leader Joe Biden may have suffered a self-inflicted wound Saturday when Sanders suddenly backed out of delivering what had been announced as a major speech on the issue of race in America.
Sanders was set to deliver the speech at a town hall appearance in Flint, Michigan, a city whose population is nearly 54 percent African-American. But according to a BuzzFeed News report, Sanders decided to ditch his remarks on race relations just moments before taking the stage, opting instead to deliver a somewhat shortened version of his routine “stump speech.”
His stump speech makes only passing mention of racial issues, instead focusing on economic inequality and Sanders’ attacks on “billionaires” and “the establishment.” But after winning early contests on Iowa and New Hampshire, where the voting population is overwhelmingly white, Sanders momentum was brought to a screeching halt by black voters in southern states who favored Biden at rates between 60 and 72 percent, according to a Politico exit poll report.
In hopes of making a connection with black voters that could spark his comeback in the Democratic primary race, Sanders visited Flint to deliver his speech on race. But he attracted a “mostly white” crowd to the event, according to BuzzFeed reporter Ruby Cramer, and decided at the last moment to defer to a set of African-American panelists at the town hall discussion when it came to the conversation of racial issues.
“He does not have those experiences,” Sanders campaign spokesperson Mike Casca told Cramer. “He is a white Jewish man.”
According to a survey of African-American voters conducted by Politico and published on Saturday, Sanders will need to directly speak on issues of race at some point soon if he wants to connect with those voters and bring his campaign back to life.
According to the Politico study, African-American voters say they are more motivated to show up at the polls by candidates whose message depicts Donald Trump “as a threat to racial progress,” than by candidates who portray Trump as “a threat to economic justice.”
In other words, if Sanders, or any candidate, plans to attract black voters to the polls, “a message stressing economic justice is not the best option; he needs to appeal explicitly to race,” according to the Politico findings.
In addition to his singleminded focus on an economic campaign message, Sanders has made other missteps that appear to have cost him support with black voters. In February, the Sanders campaign unapologetically promoted an apparent endorsement from comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan, who once compared African-American neighborhoods to Planet of the Apes. Polls showed that Sanders’ support among black voters dropped significantly after the Rogan endorsement.