US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders(I-VT) speaks to the press after loosing much of super Tuesday to US Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden the previous night, in Burlington, Vermont on March 11, 2020.
US Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders(I-VT) speaks to the press after loosing much of super Tuesday to US Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden the previous night, in Burlington, Vermont on March 11, 2020.
Photo: JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

DETROIT—Bernie got his ass kicked and it’s not looking any better moving forward.

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There really is no better way to slice or dice. it. Super Tuesday II was supposed to be the day Sanders closed his delegate gap with Joe Biden, but it only widened—in the former VP’s favor. Outside of winning North Dakota, Sanders lost every other state up for grabs.

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Michigan was supposed to be that white working-class state that Sanders was should have won. He did win it in 2016, but the landscape in this state in 2020 is much different than it was four years ago. Sixty-six percent of black voters in Michigan voted for Biden; in Missouri, that number was 72; in Mississippi, it was 87 percent; it probably didn’t leave a good taste in black folks mouths in Mississippi that Bernie skipped the state in favor of Michigan.

There is no pathway to the Democratic nomination without overwhelming black support. That said, Sanders did try to improve on his outreach to black voters, as this Rolling Stone article acknowledges. His efforts clearly weren’t enough, however. BuzzFeed reports that senior advisers have urged him to reach out to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, but that he resisted doing so.

Even though Biden won a bulk of the black vote here in Michigan, plenty of black people were hitting the pavement knocking on doors to support Sanders.

Shoniqua Kemp, lead organizer of Detroit Action, speaks to The Root on March, 9, 2020.
Shoniqua Kemp, lead organizer of Detroit Action, speaks to The Root on March, 9, 2020.
Photo: Terrell Jermaine Starr (The Root)
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Shoniqua Kemp, the lead organizer of Detroit Action, was on the city’s East Side much of the day before the Michigan primary going door-to-door trying to get people to vote—and support Bernie, who her organization endorsed.

She knocked on a lot of doors, but few people answered. That’s actually normal for any canvassing operation. But Kemp explained to me that the work she’s putting in is the work the Democratic Party and all campaigns need to do because that is how you reach people. When she does talk to people, Kemp first asks about their needs as people. Then she talks about Sanders. For her, it is a mixed experience of folks backing Biden, some supporting Bernie and many others who are unsure of who to support.

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In a city like Detroit, one of the poorest big cities in America, Sanders should’ve been leading here because of his economic platform. But his message did not resonate with enough people here—especially older black folks. As a black woman in her 40s, Kemp feels she has the personal experience to translate his message to those voters unsure of Sanders as a candidate.

“I believe that a large part of it is that folks don’t actually know the history behind Biden and that because someone we trust, the Obamas, seem to appear to be supporting him,” Kemp said during a break from door knocking. “That’s what we go with. Here in Detroit and in a lot of other cities, we experience a lack of trust from those elected officials that are supposed to support and carry out our views. And so, we roll with who is familiar to us. And that’s also the reason why we’re all here today, because Bernie Sanders and his views are familiar to Detroit Action and what we believe.”

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Kemp’s criticism of Biden’s history with black people is consistent with The Root’s reporting, so she isn’t wrong.

While older black voters do support Biden, it is not as if they cannot be flipped. They can. I spoke with Brenda Thompson, 65, and her daughter, Roslyn M Ogburn, also of Detroit Action, at Sanders’ Flint rally. Thompson, who once considered Bloomberg, switched to Sanders after talking to her grandchildren over time and doing some self-reflecting.

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She and her daughter spoke with The Root in the video below.

Black people do feel the Bern. Just not enough of them.

There are a lot of reasons why Sanders isn’t resonating with much of the black electorate, but much of it has to do with the younger people of color his campaign betted on who aren’t voting in large enough numbers to make a difference. To be fair, what is also a problem is the efforts to suppress those votes on college campuses. Since college students tend to vote Democrat, there are efforts by GOP states to prevent young people from voting. So this isn’t just a Sanders problem, this is a Democratic Party problem—in fact, it is a democracy problem.

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Since most college students tend to lean Democrat, this will be a larger issue for the eventual nominee in the fall and it would suit the Democratic National Committee to address it immediately. It would be wise for Biden to work with Sanders on how to address voter suppression on college campuses if he ends up being the nominee.

There are other challenges ahead for Sanders. Florida and Ohio (which hold primaries Tuesday) and Georgia (which holds its primary March 24) aren’t states that fall in Sanders’ favor; polls in Ohio show Biden with a narrow lead over Sanders, so he might have a shot there. Either way, black voters, especially in Georgia, will make the difference in who wins in those states. Remember how black folks put Obama over the top in 2008 and 2012?

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Bernie has not shown he can tap into the older black voter base that tends to win states for Democrats. Then there is Wisconsin—which holds its primary April 7—where you have the city of Milwaukee with a population of black folks at 40 percent. Sanders led Biden in a recent poll, but that was before Michael Bloomberg dropped out. Either way, the pathway for Sanders is getting slimmer.

We also have to factor in the impact that the coronavirus pandemic will have on voter turnout. The New York Times reports that Biden and Sanders have cancelled rallies to help prevent the spread of the virus.

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Trump, meanwhile, has done the opposite:

The new uncertainty about political rallies and face-to-face contact with voters has the potential to remake the entire presidential campaign. Not only will Democrats need mass rallies to help unite the party, after a bruising primary race, behind a nominee and a policy agenda. It is Mr. Trump, more than any American leader in modern politics, who has used mega-rallies to motivate his supporters, dominate cable news airwaves with coverage and feed his own ego and morale.

In recent days, Mr. Trump has complained to advisers about the toll the coronavirus is taking on his efforts to campaign publicly, and has continued to insist in private, as he has done in public, that worries about the virus are being overblown, according to two people familiar with his comments. Following his lead, the campaign has told reporters that all of its activity was “proceeding as normal.”

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Of course, Sanders still has a shot. Biden only has a 154 delegate lead. But, as his press conference Wednesday clearly revealed, he is beginning to see the writing on the wall. The rest of the remaining states aren’t in his favor.

Sanders’ chances of winning the nomination are beginning to fade.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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