In the quest to win African American voters, Hillary Clinton met with an unusual group of black mothers at a campaign event in South Carolina on Tuesday.
The Democratic candidates have been hustling for African American endorsements in advance of the South Carolina primary. Just recently, Bernie Sanders won the endorsement of African American figures such as Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and director and producer Spike Lee. On Tuesday, Clinton countered with some endorsements of her own.
The mothers who attended Clinton’s campaign event were mothers who had suffered one of the greatest tragedies that a parent can experience – the loss of a child to violence.
This is a group that could help build Clinton's credibility among the Black Lives Matter movement, a group that both Clinton and Sen. Sanders have had trouble winning over.
“Secretary Clinton was the first to even mention Black Lives Matter,” said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of shooting victim Trayvon Martin, “and she was the first to reach out to us to even show she cared.”
Also in attendance were the mothers of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, and Jordan Harris.
Clinton first met with the group a year ago, and they will speak several more times on Clinton’s behalf in South Carolina over the next several days. In voicing their support, they cite Clinton’s leadership and history with the African American community.
Clinton also spoke at the campaign event on Tuesday, responding to the tragic stories of the mothers present with a condemnation of violence. “Something is very wrong,” said Clinton, “when we have these incidents where kids can get arrested for petty crimes and lose their lives.”
Ms. Fulton credited Clinton for awakening her political conscience, saying “I was never into politics but now I am, and one of the reasons is because of her.”
Polls show Clinton is more popular with African American voters than Sanders. But Harvard University professor Timothy McCarthy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview, “that is a narrative that feeds itself.”
Jan Leighley, a professor of government at American University in Washington, D.C., tells the Monitor that some of Clinton’s popularity is likely due to her high-profile involvement in cvil rights activities and the legacy of husband Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“There is a large group of African American folks who grew up and participated in the Civil Rights Generation who support Hillary,” agrees Dr. McCarthy, “because they know her and have a longstanding relationship with her and her husband.”
McCarthy adds that Clinton’s popularity with older African Americans is not universal – some, such as activist and director Danny Glover, have endorsed Sanders.
Although Sanders can also claim a long relationship with the US civil rights movement – photos of his arrest at a protest in Chicago surfaced recently in the archives of the Chicago Tribune – he enjoys less support among the African American community.
As for the African American mothers currently stumping for Clinton in South Carolina, McCarthy says that there's a gender issue as well. “Certainly I think that people can relate to Clinton’s experience as a mother, and now a grandmother, and as a working woman. There’s a gender dynamic here that’s clear and powerful. There’s also an empathy dimension,” she says.
A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll predicts that Clinton is likely to earn 68 percent of the African American vote in South Carolina. Politico reports that Sanders himself seems to be lightening his schedule in response to low expectations in the state, though the Sanders campaign denies this.
Polling indicates that Sanders does better with younger voters than older voters. And this generational divide is illustrated even within the same families: Gwen Carr, a grandmother, appeared among those supporting Clinton on Tuesday, while Eric Garner’s granddaughter, Erica Garner, has publicly endorsed Sanders.
“What we do know,” says Dr. Leighley, “is that most studies report that Sanders is more appealing to youths. This is true for some African Americans as well.”
Young African-American voters “are not just looking through the lens of the civil rights movement, as a lot of older African-American voters are,” says Danielle Vinson, a political scientist at Furman University in Greenville. “They’ve had opportunities but also modern troubles and struggles that maybe their parents and grandparents didn’t have. This is a generation that’s facing lower wages and they’ve got friends being harassed by the police – it all affects them very directly, and they don’t want to wait to fix it.”
For 20-something Taesha Adams, Sanders’s economic message is compelling. Student loan bill collectors have already started calling her, she says, even though she’s just taking a semester break from college.
Even here, Clinton leads Sanders in African American voters under the age of 45, according to the Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll, though the gap is a little bit closer than the difference between voters who support Clinton and those who support Sanders in older age groups.
“There’s a younger generation who seem to be more inclined to make demands of her [Clinton] and expect her to earn their vote and their trust,” says McCarthy.