Independent Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has had a rough couple of weeks when it comes to reaching out to the Obama coalition, particularly black voters. Already the subject of suspicion because of his longstanding emphasis on reaching out to white voters, things came to a head when #BlackLivesMatter protesters interrupted Sanders at the Netroots Nation conference in July, and his response prompted a fierce social media blacklash.
Things seemed to get a little better, in that Sanders at least began to try and make the right noises about black issues, even if his policy priorities continued to come up short. In a speech to the SCLC, Sanders added a voting rights chuck to his act, but still made Citizens United his only SCOTUS litmus test, and in his speech to the Urban League, Sanders read off the names of the #BlackLivesMatter fallen, but again failed to offer policy priorities that came close to those of his Democratic rivals. Still, he was at least trying.
Then, on Wednesday, came the announcement that on September 14, Sanders will deliver a speech at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University, site of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) mandatorily-attended presidential announcement, and the only place less black than Vermont. The move has drawn a lot of press for Sanders, as well as some unsurprising social media backlash at his choice of venue, particularly from Obama coalition voters who were already giving Bernie the side-eye. Sanders’ campaign, though, had an explanation:
“It is very easy for a candidate to speak to people who hold the same views,” the statement read. “It’s harder but important to reach out to others who look at the world differently.”
Oh, you mean like this?
Black voters could be forgiven for thinking that Bernie’s decision to reach out to white conservatives is an indication that he’s either given up on them, or is willing to settle for the ones who are smart enough to understand him, but this speech actually presents Sanders with a unique opportunity to outflank his opponents with non-white voters.
Thus far, Hillary Clinton has done really well at promoting strong policy solutions to matters of concern for black voters, but she started out in a pretty deep hole with them thanks to the bitter 2008 Democratic primary, and she has mainly promoted those policy ideas before primarily black audiences. This speech gives Sanders the chance to redeem himself by delivering an improved “Black Lives Matter” message to an audience that really needs to hear it, and might not want to.
Or, it could be another chance for Sanders to reach out to the “working-class white voters” he’s been trying to decode for years with universal economic themes. We’ll see.