Bernie Sanders is still moving on up, at least in relative terms. This week’s polling has him closing the gap to within eight points of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Granted, it’s not enough to make the Queen in Waiting think she’s in any serious danger, but she’s got to be paying attention by now. Unfortunately for Bernie, there’s one area where Clinton is still significantly beating him: Sanders isn’t capturing much of the black and Latino vote at this point. He’s not willing to concede the battle though, and is taking steps to improve his position there.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who’s made limited headway with African American voters despite drawing large crowds on the campaign trail, on Saturday pledged “a significant expansion” in outreach to minority communities.
“We’re going to significantly increase that,” the Democratic presidential hopeful told reporters after a morning campaign stop here. “The views that we hold are important to all Americans … but to be honest with you, they’re probably more relevant to black and Hispanic voters … because the poverty rate in those communities is even higher than whites.”
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, cited his support to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and offer free college tuition as examples…
“We’re going to be bringing people into our campaign who will give us increased capability of reaching out to the African American community and the Hispanic community,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
This highlights the difference between what happens inside of campaign offices on a regular basis and the perceptions which show up in the media and among the public. In terms of the nuts and bolts sausage making that goes on in campaign planning a move like this is just common sense. But you’ve also got to be careful how you handle that messaging effort. Sanders is preparing to alter his staffing and strategy in an attempt to court a specific set of demographic groups. If he were a Republican, this would be reported in Politico as pandering. Fortunately for Bernie, he’s either a socialist or a Democrat, depending on which day you ask him, so it’s going to be described as a shift in strategy and expanded outreach.
But the poll numbers highlight another problem which doesn’t get quite as much attention in the press. While it’s unfashionable to say about one of the Democrats, Sanders is just about as generic of an “old white guy” as you are likely to find, and he hails from and represents a state which is the second whitest in the nation. Is Vermont unfriendly to black residents or is it just not the sort of place which appeals to them? That’s a bit too deep down the mystery machine trail for me to tackle, but it is what it is. Hillary is at least a woman, providing the needed “diversity” quotient for her campaign and she’s inheriting a significant amount of Obama’s base by default. Bernie seems to be having a “white guy problem” in terms of the depth of his support.
Will hiring a more diverse set of staffers and scheduling more events in urban centers get the job done for him? I’m not writing the guy off yet. He’s never going to be the President, but he’s putting on an extremely game fight and he may eventually flush Hillary out of her fortress of solitude. Sign me up for the Daily Bernie newsletter because it’s at least going to be fun to watch.