Black leaders say African American support in presidential primary is fluid

Nearly one-fifth of African American voters in South Carolina are undecided over which Democrat to back in the state’s presidential primary, a warning sign for former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE, who is counting on support from black voters to pull him across the finish line.

Biden has built up mountains of goodwill among African American voters as the vice president to the nation’s first black president, and he remains the clear favorite among voters in South Carolina, where about two-thirds of Democratic primary voters are black.


But African American leaders say support in the Democratic primary is fluid and could shift quickly behind whichever candidate looks strongest in a head-to-head matchup against President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE.

“This cycle, many black voters are making a pragmatic choice, driven as much or more by who can defeat Trump as the issues they care about,” said Cornell William Brooks, a South Carolina native and the former NAACP president who is now a director at the William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice.

“Biden starts with a lot of capital, but he’s seen some erosion in the polls and there are many voters willing to change their minds,” Brooks said. “There’s a great deal of fluidity in this race.”

New polling shows black voters are increasingly expressing interest in second choice candidates, such as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-N.J.), or newer faces including tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangGeorge Floyd protests show corporations must support racial and economic equality Andrew Yang discusses his universal basic income pilot program Andrew Yang on the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis MORE and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE.

The latest Post & Courier-Change Research survey found Biden’s lead in South Carolina down to 11 points in October after he was ahead by more than 30 points in May.

Biden leads Harris by 21 points among black voters in the poll, down about 10 points from August, when he had a 30-point lead over Sanders and Harris among black voters in South Carolina.

A CBS News-YouGov survey from earlier this month found that 58 percent of Biden’s backers in South Carolina described their support for him as “strong,” but 42 percent said it was only “somewhat” or “not” strong.

About half of voters in that survey said they’re also considering Warren, while 41 percent said they’re considering Sanders and about a quarter said they’re thinking about Harris.

Biden’s strength has been buoyed by the idea that he’s the most electable Democrat, with 70 percent in the CBS News-YouGov survey believing he’d defeat Trump, the highest number in the field by far, and about 20 points better than Warren or Sanders.

“We need a candidate that can beat Donald Trump,” Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldMourners, family and lawmakers in North Carolina gather to pay respects to George Floyd Democrats introduce coronavirus-focused privacy legislation Hillicon Valley: Experts raise security concerns about online voting | Musk finds supporter in Trump | Officials warn that Chinese hackers targeting COVID-19 research groups MORE (D-N.C.), a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said at a fundraiser for Biden this week. “That candidate is [Joe Biden].”

But the latest Monmouth University survey found Biden’s support in South Carolina down overall from 39 percent in July to 33 percent.

When black voters were asked to give their top two preferences, Biden came in at 52 percent, down from 62 in July, while Warren jumped from 11 to 26 percent and Sanders ticked up from 23 to 25 percent.

Biden remains the top candidate among black voters in the poll, at 39 percent, but 19 percent of black voters said they’re undecided.

In the 2008 Democratic primary race, the same poll found Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE had 77 percent support from black voters in South Carolina at this point, with only 11 percent undecided. After former President Obama showed surprising strength in Iowa, black voters moved quickly behind his campaign, propelling him to a nearly 30-point victory in South Carolina.

“This suggests that South Carolina may not be much of a firewall for Biden if he underperforms in the first contests,” said Patrick Murray, director of a Monmouth University Polling Institute.

In addition to the pragmatic question of who can win, black voters in 2019 have a full menu of candidates with different visions and styles to choose from.

Warren has electrified grassroots liberals and leapt to the top of the pack as an expert on policy. Her proposal to combat black maternal mortality has been a selling point in South Carolina.

After struggling among racial minorities in the 2016 primary contest, Sanders has put together a diverse coalition of supporters, underscored by several high-profile African American surrogates, including rapper Killer Mike and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner.

Harris has struggled recently, but she has 10 Congressional Black Caucus endorsements compared with Biden’s seven. Harris attended Howard University, one of the nation’s most prestigious historically black universities, and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest African American sorority in the U.S.

Booker, another African American running for president, is called a “favorite son” among some black leaders, who are enthused by his success story and charisma.

Buttigieg has been hamstrung by racial controversies back home in South Bend and being gay is a barrier for some black people, but his campaign has been working overtime to make a connection here. A surprise showing in Iowa, where Buttigieg is suddenly running strong, could ignite his bid as the race rounds into South Carolina.

Still, Biden remains the first choice among most black voters, who are in position to deliver him the nomination if he can maintain altitude through the early voting states.

“Biden has his arms around African American support and is squeezing ever tighter in these communities, particularly among older black voters,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina. “But anyone around this business knows that things can change in a twinkle of an eye.”

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The South Carolina primary on Feb. 29 is important on its own, but also could be a springboard to Super Tuesday, which takes place just three days later.

Contests that day will run across a raft of states with large African American populations, including Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia.

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