Sanders Competes for Black Votes in New Ad

Sanders Competes for Black Votes in New Ad
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MILWAUKEE – Candidate testimonial ads are only as powerful as the storytellers in them, and Bernie Sanders found a messenger with a compelling story to tell.

Hours before jousting with Hillary Clinton in their second face-to-face debate here, the Sanders campaign released a four-minute version of a new ad that ends with a deceptively simple endorsement: “I think we need to believe in a leader like Bernie Sanders.”

The conclusion seems conventional, but the political embrace offered to the 74-year-old Democratic socialist, accompanied by narration set to swelling music, is anything but.

The release of the Sanders ad anticipates the Feb. 27 primary in South Carolina, where African-American voters are expected to give Clinton a boost that may salve the 22-point defeat she sustained Tuesday night in New Hampshire’s primary.

The woman in the ad is Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner. Her father was murdered at age 43 after succumbing to a deadly police chokehold on Staten Island in 2014. Head-on into the camera, and seen through the eyes of her young daughter, she tells an emotional, first-person account of loss and activism. The title of the ad is, “It’s Not Over.”

“I believe Bernie Sanders is a protester,” Garner says in footage shot in her apartment and on the street in her neighborhood. In several shots, she wears a black hoodie that says, “I Can’t Breathe.”

Garner describes the horror of watching her father’s death “on national TV,” as video of Eric Garner, with a policeman’s arm around his neck, appears on the screen.

The Vermont senator is heard at the end of the ad, delivering parts of his stump speech protesting injustice and the deaths of African-American men at the hands of police.

A two-minute version of the spot will air on cable nationally, Sanders campaign senior strategist Tad Devine told RealClearPolitics, and the campaign will push a four-minute version to supporters and viewers via social media and online.

“We’re very proud of it,” he said during an interview. “People are going to see it.” Devine said the campaign crafted the ad after reading an Op-Ed endorsing Sanders, written by Garner’s eldest daughter and published in The Washington Post in January. Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, endorsed Hillary Clinton last month.

In her newspaper article, Garner, the founder of the Garner Way Foundation, concluded: “Black Americans – all Americans – need a leader with a record that speaks for itself. And to me, it’s clear. Of all the presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders is our strongest ally.”

Clinton won the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC this week, and her campaign is inviting African-American House lawmakers and civil rights leaders who support the former secretary of state to stump for her in the Palmetto State.

“She’s got a lot of support from leaders in Congress, and obviously she has a lot of support for the entire political establishment,” Devine said, “and we recognize that’s a big asset for her.”

Sanders’ campaign is fighting back with two additional testimonial ads featuring South Carolina state representatives, who support the senator’s bid for the White House, and the campaign may complete another ad featuring former NAACP President Ben Jealous, who recently endorsed Sanders. Although Clintons’ backers charge that Sanders is a come-lately advocate for African-American families and racial justice, the senator is betting that college-age black voters are poised to assess his policies and rhetoric for themselves.

“We recognize that in South Carolina, Secretary Clinton has a lot of support and a lot of long ties, and we respect that,” Devine said. “But we’re going to work very hard there, and we’ve been working hard there for a long time.”

Flush with more than $6 million in contributions made to the campaigns in one day after Sanders’ blowout victory in the New Hampshire, his campaign can afford to introduce the candidate to Democrats who may not know him well in contests in Nevada, South Carolina and a cascade of “Super Tuesday” states March 1.

Clinton’s team considers South Carolina, with its larger and more diverse population, a firewall for her after her narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses and a humiliating, 22-point loss in the first-in-the-nation primary in the Granite State.

Clinton leads Sanders in South Carolina by nearly 30 points, according to the latest RCP average.  

“We are going to have to win support from voters,” Devine said, noting the campaign did not have the benefit of establishment endorsers in Iowa or New Hampshire to compare with Clinton’s army of surrogates.

“I think almost every elected official was not with us, but we found a way to communicate with people and get our message out, and obviously that resonated very powerfully. That’s what we’re going to try to do in other states, as well,” he said.

Sanders’ campaign spokesmen have been suggesting for weeks that the senator can compete favorably for votes in Nevada, in part because the 2008 economic downturn and the foreclosure crisis pummeled the Silver State so severely, and the senator’s laments about a “rigged” economy and his pitch to break up big banks and throttle Wall Street may find receptive listeners there.

“We’ve been on TV there longer,” Devine added. “We’ve had a very substantial presence there.”

The Nevada Democratic caucuses take place Feb. 20.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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