On a the Tuesday after the slaying of nine, innocent black men and women in a famous South Carolina church by 21 year old Dylan Roof, Hillary Clinton spoke on race and boy did she speak loud and clear. Speaking before the congregation of Christ the King Church just a few miles from last summer’s violent unrest in Ferguson, Clinton said, “America’s long struggle with race is far from over,” she said shortly before the prayer. “The truth is, equality, opportunity, civil rights in America are still far from where they need to be.”
Clinton knows she needs black voters in a big way. Without them Obama would have lost Florida, Ohio and Virginia in 2012 and North Carolina in 2008. In the President’s initial run in 08 he made direct appeals on racial issues while Clinton deferred. Now, Clinton, recognizing she needs to win over the same voters who put Obama in office is speaking directly to them on issues that impact their community. Continuing in her remarks at the church Clinton made a direct appeal for their votes, “If people voted for people who would represent them about these interests—that’s the way we run! It’s still not going to be easy but its going to be a whole lot easier if you elect people who actually are committed to addressing the community’s problems.” She wasn’t done, continuing “The hardest thing to do in a campaign is to convince people to actually take the time to vote. If you don’t have to even to go to the communities that are making these demands because you know they’re not going to vote and you don’t have to pay attention them, then nothing changes.”
Clinton’s message is clear. Republicans don’t care about you but I do. To be fair, Clinton has much to offer blacks in her resume. She spent much of her legal work after leaving Yale Law School in the 1970s dealing with impoverished and African-American communities. But she also has things to reconcile with the community. She fully supported her husband’s strong incarceration policy as well as his 100,000 new boots (police boots) on the ground. She also supported Stop and Frisk before opposing it.
Telling minority communities what they want to hear is nothing new for the Democratic frontrunner. Last month in Las Vegas she fully endorsed “amnesty” and actually spoke convincingly of America as a melting pot made stronger by immigrants. But the South Carolina shooting gave her campaign a greater degree of freedom to focus specifically on inequality, especially among blacks and on America’s dark racial past.
However, whether black Americans turn out for the former First Lady is an open question. While she sports similar numbers among the black community in terms of support and favorable ratings as Obama there remains the very open question of whether Obama’s support among blacks was a one time thing. Because, support for a candidate means nothing if that supporter does not go out and cast a ballot for his/her preferred candidate.
Toward that end the Clinton campaign decided to make race a central pillar of their campaign early on. She has called on Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act and extend early voting to a federal minimum of 20 days and create universal voter registration. She has also been a staunch supporter of gun control since 2009 when she became Secretary of State. All these positions come at a cost however. While they are likely to increase her support among blacks and Latinos it is likely to cost her with whites and perhaps Asians.
Still, for Clinton her support from white voters seems baked into the cake. It is hard to see her garnering less than 39% (Obama’s share in 2012) but more than him in 2008 (43%). Turnout among minorities is far less assured. Hence, Clinton is making race a central pillar of her campaign, regardless of the political and social consequences.