So imagine a scenario in which Sanders emerges from the first two contests 2-0, and Clinton is still looking for her first win. The race heads to Nevada, where Clinton leads and has been organizing for months but Sanders has recently been furiously staffing up, and then to South Carolina, where Clinton leads by, uh, 36 points in the latest poll (which is almost a month old). Next up are several southern states.
The south is generally said to be Clinton’s firewall. The Democratic Party’s strength in the region is black voters, a demographic among whom Sanders has struggled. He is far more inclined to view matters of conflict in terms of class than race. After several tangles with Black Lives Matter early in the race, Sanders admitted he struggled with African American issues and promised to get smart. He hired as his press secretary Symone Sanders (no relation), a young black activist. He’s incorporated a spiel about police brutality and unequal opportunity for people of color into his stump speech. He’s spent more time around Killer Mike than El-P has over the last few months.
It’s unclear how much dent that has made in Clinton’s African American support. Sanders backers can point to the 2008 campaign, and South Carolina in particular, as proof that black voters will abandon Clinton en masse just as soon as she looks like she can’t win. That’s true as far as it goes, but misses several key points. First, she never led Obama by as much as she does Sanders, and he’d pulled even by Christmas. Second, Clinton is unlikely to be hurt by another grievous verbal gaffe by her husband like the one that so damaged her there eight years ago. Third, Sanders won’t benefit from the good feeling of electing a first black president, as Obama did. During that campaign, there was endless questioning of whether Obama was black enough, but no one will raise that question about Sanders.