With the March 1 Colorado caucuses nearing next week, black pastors in Denver who back Bernie Sanders are hoping to introduce the candidate to a voting bloc that might not be too familiar with him.
“We are absolutely trying to recruit African-Americans to support Bernie,” says Bishop Jerry Demmer of the Absolute Word Church in Denver.
A group of black pastors are working with representatives from the Sanders campaign to schedule a luncheon toward the end of this week and a rally before the Super Tuesday caucuses on March 1, he says. He’s working with his brother, Rev. Patrick Demmer of Graham Memorial Community Church.
Jerry Demmer says he worries many in Colorado’s black community might not know much about the U.S. Senator who hails from the very white Northeastern state of Vermont.
“He’s always tried to fight for Civil Rights,” Demmer says of Sanders. “He was raised in Brooklyn, he was raised around a lot of African-Americans [and] understands African-American plight. So I think it’s super sincere. I don’t think it’s just about getting elected and trying to get a vote. He was involved in African-American politics and African-American rights before he was ever running for president. This has been going on a long time in Bernie’s life.”
Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton are courting support from black voters in the lead-up to the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday. In the Palmetto State, blacks make up a majority of Democratic primary voters, and the state could be a Clinton firewall after her narrow win over Sanders in Nevada this week. (Exit polls in that state, also a caucus state, showed Clinton having overwhelming support from black voters there.)
Around this time two years ago, the Ready for Hillary Super PAC was already in South Carolina trying to “smooth over lingering resentments” from the bitter battle her campaign waged against Barack Obama in 2008. Comments former President Bill Clinton made about Obama in South Carolina that year had turned off the state’s most powerful black lawmaker, Congressman Jim Clyburn.
But those wounds have healed. Clyburn this week endorsed Clinton. Also backing her in an ad airing in South Carolina is former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Today, the Clinton campaign announced the endorsement of former NAACP president and Congressman Kweisi Mfume.
“I served in Congress with Bernie Sanders and know him to be a likable guy, but I know that Hillary understands our struggles first hand,” Mfume said in a statement. “I believe she is the candidate best suited to carry on the work and progress made on health care and common sense gun reforms… and then actually get something done.”
Responding to the news of black clergy in Denver rallying for Sanders, Clinton’s Colorado campaign spokeswoman Kristin Lynch released a statement:
“Hillary Clinton has spent her life fighting to break down barriers for those who have been left out and left behind for too long— beginning when, as a 24-year-old law student working for the Children’s Defense Fund, she traveled to Alabama to investigate segregation in schools,” she said. She added Clinton’s track record on health care, gun violence prevention, education and criminal justice reform.
And, Lynch rolled out a list of influential black leaders in Denver who support Clinton’s campaign that includes former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former state lawmaker Wilma Webb, Councilman Albus Brooks, Democratic National Committee member Anthony Graves, Reps. Jovan Melton, Rhonda Fields, Angela Williams and Janet Buckner, former state Sen. Gloria Tanner, former Urban League President Landri Taylor, and current Denver Mayor Hancock.
Brett Bursey, who runs the Columbia-based South Carolina Progressive Network and brought Sanders to the Palmetto State for the first time in 2013, mentioned at least one black Democrat in the legislature there who has switched support from Hillary to Sanders.
This weekend in Colorado, Thorton Rep. Joe Salazar came out in support of Sanders, a signal that the democratic socialist from Vermont might be able to appeal to some Latinos in a state where Latinos make up a healthy portion of the electorate. Salazar might be the only Democrat on record in the legislature to formally endorse Sanders so publicly thus far. But the Sanders campaign in Colorado will be holding a news conference on the western steps of the Capitol tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 23, and will be releasing more names of supporters.
Demmer, the Denver pastor, says he hopes to announce a day and time for the luncheon event later in the week.
“We simply want to lay out some facts to the African-American community, and the leadership of the African-American community is the pastors, it is not the politicians,” he says.
[Photo credit: Phil Roeder via Creative Commons on Flickr]