As the Pennsylvania primary approaches, the two Democratic presidential candidates are battling for the support of African-American voters. Bernie Sanders is working to introduce himself, while Hillary Clinton seeks to consolidate and strengthen longstanding ties to the community.
The Clinton campaign this week began running a new TV ad in Philadelphia and markets throughout Pennsylvania that features Morgan Freeman, a voice so authoritative he’s been cast as God on film. He finishes the ad by saying, “She’s always stood with us.”
Democratic strategist Mark Nevins said Bill Clinton was beloved in the state’s African-American community in the ’90s, and much of that affection that extended to Hillary when she pursued her own ambitions.
“Even in 2008, running against Barack Obama, she had the endorsement of African-American leaders in the state, including [Philadelphia Mayor] Michael Nutter,” Nevins said.
I got a feel for what Sanders is up against when I spoke to Marian Tasco, the former Philadelphia councilwoman and an influential Democratic ward leader.
“The Clintons’ philosophy is about helping people, bottom line,” Tasco said. “Bernie Sanders is not known in our community. We don’t know Bernie, I don’t know Bernie Sanders.”
Black voters’ loyalty to the Clintons is reflected in a Franklin & Marshall poll three weeks ago that found Clinton leading Sanders by 51 percentage points among African-American Democrats.
But Sanders is determined to compete. When he visited Philadelphia for a mass rally at Temple last week, his campaign added a second event for the afternoon.
He met with a mostly African-American crowd at the historic Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in South Philadelphia, and he made a point to address concerns of black voters, including education and police brutality.
“African-American kids, 51 percent unemployed or underemployed — this doesn’t surprise you, does it? You know that,” Sanders told the crowd. “We should be investing in those kids in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration.”
It wasn’t a huge crowd, but it cheered Sanders message. He isn’t getting any noticeable support from black elected leaders heres, but he’s working on it. He’s running a TV ad produced by Spike Lee.
“People of color have a deeply vested interest in what Bernie Sanders brings to us in this election,” says actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte in the ad. He hands off to the daugher of Eric Garner, who died after New York police officers put him in a choke hold.
Garner’s words “I can’t breathe” as caught on video became a rallying cry for protests against police brutality.
The Clinton campaign isn’t letting up, though. It has a new radio ad on gun violence that says her “Democrtatic opponent” has voted repeatedly against background checks. The Pennsylvania primary is a week from Tuesday.