Can Al Sharpton Help Bernie Sanders Win Black Voters?

Sanders needs all the help he can get before the South Carolina primary

Fresh off his New Hampshire primary win, Bernie Sanders met with Al Sharpton at iconic Harlem restaurant Sylvia’s to attract black voters he desperately needs.

Sanders needs African-American support in time for the Feb. 27 primary in South Carolina, where black voters make up more than 50 percent of the state’s registered Democrats. But a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal Marist poll shows Sanders struggling to attract black voters in South Carolina: Just 17 percent support him, compared to 74 percent for Hillary Clinton.

Nate Silver’s political site FiveThirtyEight thinks Sanders will have a tough time:

Most worrisome for Sanders is his 25-percentage-point loss among New Hampshire Democrats who want to continue President Obama’s policies. Obama’s current job approval rating among blacks nationally is about 90 percent. Sanders will have big problems in South Carolina if he doesn’t do better among voters who like Obama.

CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper told TheWrap that a meeting with Sharpton can’t hurt.

“Having Sharpton’s support, or at the very least [that Sharpton] be neutral, is important. He is a major figure in the African-American community,” Tapper said. “A figure like Sharpton, what he says and what he thinks can have a lot of sway. Even if all he gets out of him is Sharpton’s pledge to be neutral in the Democratic contest, that’s a lot.”

Sanders and Sharpton met for roughly 30 minutes, according to the New York Post. It looked to be a smoother meeting than some of the ones Sanders has had with African-American activists in the past.

When he attended a #BlackLivesMatter gathering in September, attendees expressed concern that because he represents Vermont, an overwhelmingly white state, he may not be in touch with black voters, according to the Huffington Post.

Additionally, #BlackLivesMatter activists disrupted a Sanders speech last summer, marking the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson.

Sander has tried to improve his standing with African-American voters. He hired #BlackLivesMatter supporter Symone Sanders (no relation) to improve relations, and she tweeted that she was at the breakfast this morning:

During CNN’s first Democratic presidential debate, Sanders was essentially asked to choose between Black Lives Matter and the idea that all lives matter. He replied:

“Black lives matter. And the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car and then three days later she ends up dead in jail. Or their kids are gonna get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom and we need major, major reforms in the broken criminal justice system in which we have more people in jail than China. And I intend to tackle that issue,” Sanders answered.

Civil rights activist Shaun King loved his answer: “Bernie absolutely nailed this answer without even a hint of hesitation,” King wrote.

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