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Why Biden’s Southern Victories Matter Far More than “Momentum”

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Cue the recycled memes that Clinton Biden is only going to win the nomination because of support in red states.  The underlying message here that somehow these voters are less important than other voters in states that somehow “matter” in the election.  Sanders said today that he’ll be heading to Michigan after canceling an event in Mississippi.  If there’s ever an indication that Sanders has given up on a portion of the country; particularly a key partner within the Democratic party, it is his post-Super Tuesday strategy. 

Voter suppression regimes coupled with one-party rule in the South mean that the Democratic primary is one of the few opportunities Black voters have to influence elections.  Beyond that, there is at least one nationally important race where energized Black voters will be crucial for victory – Doug Jones doesn’t go back to Washington without large Black turnout.  He managed during a non-Trump election year; the road will be harder when the Trumpenvolk come out to vote for Thanos.  A Sanders nomination would surely have spelled doom (yes, past tense is intentional) for Mr. Jones – and, yes, I realize Jones’ chances are slim now, but better than none.

It is true that Sanders does better with younger Black voters and there could be an opportunity for him to unite that passion with the concerns of older Black voters.  But, Sanders is not a coalition candidate – he’s an ideological one; and this means attempting to convince people that your idea is the best one rather than meeting them half or even a tenth of the way.  Biden in classic, some might say petrified, form is engaging in coalitional politics that comes across as milquetoast, but, has somehow put him in the lead overall. 

The other issue here is that Trump is making a play for Black voters some that I’ve written about beforeThomas Edsall has written this week that an underappreciated component of the 2016 campaign was Trump’s simultaneous efforts to both win Black support and suppress Black voter turnout.  He has ramped up efforts to highlight his “achievements” in bringing jobs to Black communities while at the same time highlighting issues that drive a wedge between moderate and liberal wings of the party of all races – notably, immigration.

Trump is the racist, but, as John McWhorter states in Edsall’s analysis: “Trump’s racism is less important to probably most black people than it is to the minority of black people in academia/the media/collegetownish circles.” 

Black voters are in play on two dimensions in this election. While the typical focus has been singularly focused on turnout (indeed, turnout was down in 2016 in key areas like Detroit, maybe an unfair comparison with the Obama years), the new reality is that Trump is going to try to peel Black voters away from the Party.  Joe Biden has a much stronger connection with this community.  And, yes, I’ve heard the clamor of “Crime Bill” and other issues that have negatively affected Black communities which are accompanied by “How could Blacks vote for Biden?”  This chorus in the face of strong actual support among African Americans is unfortunate, patronizing, and, if it continues, borderline offensive.

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