Elizabeth Warren Is Officially a Frontrunner—Except Among Black South Carolina Voters

Photo: Scott Eisen (Getty Images)

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren certainly appears to be living some version of “hot nerd fall.” New polls show the presidential hopeful, who’s branded herself as the candidate with a detailed plan for everything, surging ahead of contenders in three key primary contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, Vox notes, Warren has pushed past Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden—particularly notable since those states are the first to have primaries and thus, can give her important momentum as she tries to woo voters in other states.

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But despite recent strong performances in front of black audiences, Warren has yet to make meaningful inroads with black voters. And, since this is a blog about a presidential primary, it’s crucial to note exactly what pollsters, pundits and reporters mean when they say black voters: They mean South Carolina.

According to a poll released by CNN over the weekend, Biden is the clear darling among black voters in the state, with nearly half of likely primary voters (45 percent) backing the former vice president. As CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson highlights, only 4 percent of this group considers Warren their top choice (for perspective, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a man often critiqued for failing to activate older black voters, polls at 13 percent).

Asked about the lack of enthusiasm among black South Carolinian voters on Saturday, Warren had this to say:

“The way I see this is that African American women have really been the backbone of the Democratic Party for generations now. They get out there and they fight for you. What I’m doing is showing up and trying to talk to people about why I’m in this fight. About what’s broken and how to fix it and how we’re building a grassroots movement to get it done. And it’s not just one policy, it’s everywhere. Education it is. It’s about our historically black colleges and universities. It’s about closing the black white wealth gap by canceling a lot of the student loan debt that’s out there. It’s there in health care to deal with the maternal health mortality rates that hit black women so much harder than any other group. It’s about housing and attacking redlining straight on. I’ve got a lot of plans and what I want to do talk to people about all of them. Because ultimately we have a country that keeps working better and better for those at the top and isn’t working for much of anyone else and I think we got a chance to change that.”

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Pundits are quick to note Warren still has time. The Boston Globe reports that Warren is still ramping up her operations in the Palmetto State, and sources note that South Carolina has leaned more conservative in its choice of potential presidential candidates in the past. Biden, still awash in the light of Barack Obama’s presidency (and some high-beam veneers) isn’t just the most recognizable name on the ballot so far, he’s also the one that seems safest and most “electable,” some voters say.

But this could change if Warren racks up early wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada—which could give her enough momentum to push South Carolinians to jump the Biden boat and cast their lot with Warren. This was the case with Obama in 2008, her supporters are eager to point out, when early polling showed Hillary Clinton was the favorite in the Southern state until Obama pulled off an upset in Iowa.

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Still, Warren is no Obama, and “Uncle Joe,” despite clumsy debate performances and a patchy record regarding desegregation, continues to capitalize on a campaign strategy that hinges on voters knowing his black friend.

Warren, meanwhile, will try to bank on her slow-and-steady approach winning the primary race, and try to appeal to younger black voters, who are less inclined to back Biden than their elders.

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“Joe Biden’s message to younger voters remains to be seen,” Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a South Carolina state rep told Bloomberg. “That’s an untapped market that still seems to be searching for a candidate, and if Warren can excite that particular age group, that enhances her chances of carving out an appreciable percentage of the black vote in South Carolina.”

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?