Obama, who had just won a surprise victory in Iowa and was the first plausible African American Democratic nominee, became the overwhelming choice for black voters. In 2004, John F. Kerry and Edwards earned momentum and the sheen of electability in Iowa and New Hampshire, and they ended up winning the vast majority of African American voters in subsequent states. In every case, African Americans had a couple of viable choices but mostly settled on one. Their differences in age, religion, region and economic class didn’t significantly disrupt the pattern of bloc voting.
This year, the primaries aren’t functioning in the same way. In South Carolina and major Super Tuesday states, African American voters will be choosing between at least half a dozen different candidates in that election, each of whom will claim to be the pragmatic choice to beat President Trump. There’s no clear electable, establishment-friendly favorite, and polls suggest that African American voters are more split than usual.