Around a dish of spicy chicken wings, in church or at a university founded for black students, Democratic nomination candidates crisscross South Carolina to appeal to African-American voters, potential key to the victory in their race at the White House.
Republican President Donald Trump “tries to divide us, our campaign brings us together” on the contrary, Sunday launched independent Senator Bernie Sanders to the deafening applause of some 600 people gathered in the gymnasium of a university in Rock Hill, a small town of this southeastern US state.
“It brings us together between blacks and whites, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans in the struggle for economic justice, social justice, racial justice and environmental justice.”
The choice of the small Clinton university, founded at the end of the 19th century to accommodate segregated black students, was appreciated by Stephonia Wright who had come to see Bernie Sanders for the first time.
The 40-year-old has yet to choose among the more than 20 candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden – who is leading national polls as well as the black electorate – the black senator and former prosecutor Kamala Harris , the young white mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg …
“We’ll have to wait to be closer to the primaries to see who emerges from the ashes,” she said in a burst of laughter.
By then, candidates will fight to woo blacks in South Carolina, where they represent a majority of the electorate for the Democratic primary.
Their role will be all the more decisive in the choice of who will face Donald Trump in November 2020 that this state will be among the first to vote in the primary Democratic … and can give a decisive boost to the winner.
Hence the electoral frenzy that has seized the capital, Columbia, this weekend, when virtually all candidates have multiplied conferences and meetings in small committee.
On Friday, Kamala Harris, daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, met a small group of women. On Saturday morning, Senator Cory Booker, another black candidate in this unprecedented diversity group, was warmly welcomed to a parish in Columbia. Sunday, Bernie Sanders delighted the customers of a small restaurant in Rock Hill arriving by surprise …
But it is the name of Joe Biden, strong of a solid popularity drawn partly of his eight years spent like right arm of Barack Obama, which resonates for the moment most strongly among the democratic voters.
At 76, he “can get the country back on track,” said 75-year-old Eva Gordon, arriving Sunday in her bright white suit at Zion Church, the nerve center in Columbia’s civil rights struggle 1960.
- – “exaggerated” controversy –
The controversy over his recent remarks evoking his “courtesy” with two senators in favor of racial segregation?
“It seems to me to have been exaggerated,” said 65-year-old Ida Washington, who came to listen to her as a dozen other candidates Friday night at a free party organized by a popular black US Congressman, Jim Clyburn, who also defended Joe Biden last week.
Pete Buttigieg’s storm in his home town of Indiana, a northern state after the death of a black man shot by a white policeman, does not resonate in the streets of Columbia either.
But she pushed the mayor to shorten his visit and miss Mr. Clyburn’s influential party, yet an excellent opportunity to make himself known here.
“Many African Americans define themselves as moderate and that may help Biden,” a centrist candidate like Buttigieg, at this early stage and still uncertain of the race, said Kyle Kondik, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
But the black electorate is not “monolithic,” stresses Johnnie Cordeiro, chairman of a group – the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina – pushing for the Democratic vote at a meeting organized by young people Black “millenials” and candidates, around chicken wings dishes with spicy barbecue sauce, typical of the southern United States.
However, there are indeed some cross-cutting issues, he said: the fight against economic inequality, the question of the “mass incarceration” of blacks and the great demand for compensation for the ravages caused by slavery and its heritage.
“These are the issues that candidates must address if they want Black support.”