Not a single Democratic presidential candidate can win the nomination without the black vote. At last night’s highly contentious and chaotic debate in South Carolina, all seven contenders were intensely aware of that fact as each sought to make the case for black support.
With the upcoming Feb. 29 South Carolina primary and March 3 Super Tuesday contests – which includes Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia across 14 states – the candidate dealt with a range of race-specific issues, battling to show that they were the most focused on issues of great concern to African Americans such as reparations, housing, criminal justice reform and voting rights. Another reason for this focus was the fact that the debate, which was held in Charleston, South Carolina, was co-sponsored by the non-partisan Congressional Black Caucus institute.
Those on the debate stage last night included Sen. Bernie sanders of Vermont, the current frontrunner; former vice president Joe Biden; Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; former South bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer and late entrant billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Fighting for his political life, Biden is counting on strong support from South Carolina’s black community, which accounted for 55% and 61% of the ballots in 2008 and 2016, respectively, and are expected to cast up to two-thirds of all ballots in this Sunday’s primary. He also seeking the endorsement of Congressman James E. Clyburn, the state’s most prominent African-American legislator and one of the nation’s most powerful Democrats.
During the debate, Biden, the vice president of the nation’s first African American president Barack Obama stressed that he would win the South Carolina due to his career-long support of African Americans. He asserted: “My entire life I have been involved with the black community. I was a public defender. I worked in the projects. I came along, and the first thing I did as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee was extending the Voting Rights Act eventually for 25 years.”
“We’ve got to help them create wealth, and that’s why we double the amount of money that is available for young entrepreneurs, and black entrepreneurs are as successful as any other group of people in the country,” Biden added.
Biden sought to score big points with the state’s black female electorate when he announced toward the end of the debate that he would make history by appointing the first African American woman Supreme Court Justice if he captured the Oval Office.
Until recently, Biden had a lock on the state’s black vote. However, Sanders victories in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada as well as the money spent by Steyer and Bloomberg on television advertising and within the black community has significantly cut into Biden’s support. In fact, Steyer, who is running third in the polls and has stated that his running on a Campaign of “economic justice, racial justice and climate justice,:, recently has been criticized for renting his South Carolina headquarters from Clyburn’s daughter, according to The New York Times.
During the debate, Biden further attacked Steyer related to the investment that the hedge fund he co-founded and managed until 2012, Farallon Capital Management, had invested millions of dollars in the Corrections Corporation of America. According to Politico, members of Yale’s graduate teachers’ union called on the university to divest from Farallon over the prison corporation’s alleged abuses. In 2004, Steyer defended the investment but two years later, his firm sold its CCA stock, and Steyer later cited the “concerns of student leaders” when explaining the decision.
Bloomberg, who is not on the ballot in South Carolina but was seeking to gain momentum for the Super Tuesday races, was put on the hot seat by most of the candidates for his controversial “stop-and-frisk” crime deterrent that he implemented as mayor of New York City. All of the other candidates on the stage emphatically characterized the policy as being “racist” when one of the moderators, CBS Morning co-host Gayle King, asked the question.
Buttigieg, who admitted to his own challenges with racial incidents during his years as South Bend’s mayor, responded by citing that the approach “was about profiling people based on their race and the mayor even said that they disproportionately stopped white people too often and minorities too little.”
Buttigieg added: “I’m not here to score points. I come at this with a great deal of humility because we have had a lot of issues, especially when it comes to racial justice and policing in my own community. And I come to this with some humility because I’m conscious of the fact that there’s seven white people on this stage talking about racial justice. None of us have the experience– the lived experience– of, for example, walking down the street or in a mall and feeling eyes on us regarding us as dangerous without knowing the first thing about us just because of the color of our skin.. Since we don’t have the experience, the next best thing we can do is actually listen to those who do.”
Bloomberg maintained that he apologized for enacting stop-and frisk and has since sought advice from “black leaders” on how to best tackle crime and other related issues with communities of color.
Biden also took aim at Sanders, who was also attacked by the panel about the practicality of his “Medicare For All” healthcare plan and viability as a Democratic Socialist candidate, on his track record regarding gun control, citing the “nine people shot dead by a white supremacist” during the 2015 mass murder at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South. He chided Sanders for his past opposition to waiting periods for gun purchases versus his stance on the issue. “I’m not saying that he’s responsible for the nine deaths, but the man would not have been able to get that weapon if the waiting period had been what I suggest.” Sanders acknowledged that he regretted his past stances and alluded to the fact that he represents one of National Rifle Association’s biggest political opponents on the issue.
When the topic turned to housing, Warren blasted Bloomberg, doubling down on her past criticism of the billionaire being “busy blaming African Americans and Latinos for the housing crash of 2008” and his alleged embrace of the practice of redlining. Bloomberg continued to deny making such comments.