Adding to a growing list of prominent African American voices backing Bernie Sanders in his presidential bid, former NAACP head Ben Jealous will reportedly endorse the Vermont senator and campaign with him this weekend in New Hampshire.
"Jealous could prove to be a valuable surrogate for Sanders as he looks to expand the map by broadening his appeal with minority voters."
—Ben Kamisar, The Hill
CNN broke the news on Thursday morning, saying Jealous—who was the youngest person to head the civil rights organization—would appear with Sanders to make the announcement ahead of the Granite State's February 9 primary. A New York Times reporter said on Twitter the formal endorsement would come on Friday.
"The endorsement is a potential boost to Sanders who has struggled to gain traction among African-American voters," wrote CNN, while The Hill reported, "Jealous could prove to be a valuable surrogate for Sanders as he looks to expand the map by broadening his appeal with minority voters."
This will be critical to running a campaign that will take Sanders to July's Democratic National Convention.
After all, The Hill noted, minority voters "become a larger part of the electorate after the first two states." Nevada, whose Democratic electorate includes a substantial Hispanic population, caucuses on February 20; South Carolina, which holds its primary on February 27, has a significant black voting population.
And Sanders has been struggling in this area—a recent poll showed that in South Carolina, rival Hillary Clinton receives the backing of 74 percent of African American likely voters, compared to just 17 percent for Sanders.
As Talking Points Memo reporter Tierney Sneed wrote on Wednesday:
Hillary Clinton supporters spooked by her razor-thin victory in Iowa likely woke up Tuesday morning chanting one thing: “firewall.”
The belief is that once Clinton makes it past the ultra-white contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Sen. Bernie Sanders has a substantial lead in the polls ahead of next week's primary, she can bank on a more diverse demographic—and particularly Latinos and African-Americans—to bulwark her support in the states that follow.
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But that firewall is not impenetrable. "Yes, they have a firewall, but how much asbestos is really in that firewall?" asked Robert Shrum, a strategist for Democratic presidential candidates, including Al Gore, Edward M. Kennedy, and John Kerry. "Do people start to take a second look?"
Indeed, Yves Smith writes at Naked Capitalism, "as of about two weeks ago, Clinton’s approval ratings among black voters in South Carolina had fallen from 79% to 54%."
"We have an agenda that makes sense to all Americans, but to be honest with you, it makes more sense for the African-American community because of the economic problems facing that community in terms of higher unemployment, lower wages, a harder time sending their kids to college."
"As of then, Sanders had not turned this decline into conversions to his campaign," Smith acknowledged, "but small focus groups suggest those voters are receptive to his message. So South Carolina could be more in play than it appears on the surface."
And if the firewall fails to crumble, corporate media is at least partially to blame, author and Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander wrote in a Facebook post last week:
If anyone doubts that the mainstream media fails to tell the truth about our political system (and its true winners and losers), the spectacle of large majorities of black folks supporting Hillary Clinton in the primary races ought to be proof enough. I can't believe Hillary would be coasting into the primaries with her current margin of black support if most people knew how much damage the Clintons have done—the millions of families that were destroyed the last time they were in the White House thanks to their boastful embrace of the mass incarceration machine and their total capitulation to the right-wing narrative on race, crime, welfare and taxes.
Sanders himself made a similar point when speaking to a South Carolina crowd in September.
"We have an agenda that makes sense to all Americans, but to be honest with you, it makes more sense for the African-American community because of the economic problems facing that community in terms of higher unemployment, lower wages, a harder time sending their kids to college," he said at the time. "I believe once the African-American community becomes familiar with it, there will be a lot of support."
Or as Dr. Cornel West, a key Sanders supporter, said on Martin Luther King Day this year: "I was sitting in church today, Mother Emanuel Church, and we were reading the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and it just makes you shake and quiver. And I said to myself, 'This is what the Sanders campaign is about. This is what it’s about. It’s about the poor, working people. It’s about keeping track of the weak and the vulnerable. It’s about mustering the courage to tell the truth about Wall Street, about wealth inequality.'"