Sweet: Clinton, Sanders wooing black voters

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Hillary Clinton will hold a rally Wednesday in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville community, part of a larger national strategy to turn out a big African-American vote — especially in South Carolina, where she battles Bernie Sanders in a Feb. 27 primary.

And to this point: In New York on Tuesday — at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem — Clinton will deliver a major speech on “breaking down barriers for African-Americans” expected to deal with racism and economic inequality.

African-Americans could make up half of the South Carolina Democratic primary voters, and the Clinton and Sanders campaigns are working the barber and beauty shops, churches and the historically black colleges and universities here. Each campaign is running paid TV spots targeting black voters. On Sunday, the rival camps sent surrogates to services.

The Clinton camp planted a flag in South Carolina last April with the first staff hires. The Sanders folks are trying to catch up, pushed nationally into dealing with matters of race by the growing Black Lives Matter movement. Every poll points to a Clinton win here — but after basically running even with Sanders in Iowa and getting thumped in New Hampshire, a robust showing by Sanders in a state where Hillary and Bill Clinton have been well-known for years — well, it won’t make Clinton look strong, especially if Sanders does well in the Nevada caucus this Saturday.

OPINION

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This past weekend, the Clinton campaign deployed Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.; Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus — its political arm endorsed Clinton — around the Palmetto State.

I caught up with Sewell on Sunday after she appeared on behalf of Clinton at the Mount Zion AME Church in Florence. “On Saturday, I joined other members of the CBC going to barbershops and beauty shops; basically retail politics,” Sewell said.

In the 2008 Democratic primary, Barack Obama — who voters obviously knew would be the first black president — took 55.4 percent of the vote to 26.5 for Clinton and 17.6 to John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator who was sort of a native son. Exit polls found Obama snared 81 per cent of the African-American vote.

I asked South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison what is motivating the African-American South Carolina voter in 2016.

“Continuing the legacy of Barack Obama,” Harrison said. “I think that’s really, really important to most of the Democrats, particularly to the African-American Democrats in the state. If you poll my Democrats, Barack Obama is the most popular person in the Democratic world here in South Carolina.

On Sunday, Bass attended two services at the New Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence on behalf of Clinton. “I talk about the president,” Bass told me. “And I talk about the fact that the president chose her as the Secretary of State, and that she served side-by-side with him for the last four years. And that I felt and have full confidence, that she will continue his legacy.”

Sanders’ national press secretary, Symone Sanders, an African-American, has been based in South Carolina these past days. “We are in the beauty shops, the barber shops, and the Bible study,” she told me Sunday, after going to church with Sanders’ surrogates.

Younger voters drawn to Bernie Sanders aren’t that familiar with Bill and Hillary, Symone Sanders said.

With a March 15 Illinois primary, Clinton will hit Chicago on Wednesday for three fundraisers and a rally at 4455 S. King Dr., where she will be joined by Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Naperville resident Sandra Bland, who was found dead in a Texas jail cell after a traffic stop — one of a series of controversies involving African-Americans and police.

Said Delmarie Cobb, the Clinton spokeswoman in Illinois: “We look forward to using this week’s visit as a chance to engage even more supporters in the community and get them involved with our campaign in Illinois.”

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

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