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Black Votes Matter: Hillary vs. Bernie In Iowa

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Candidates-on-a-stick at the Des Moines Social Club
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Iowa voters will flock to their respective caucuses to cast their votes tonight, winnowing the field of candidates and setting off the race for 2016 with the first major event of the year. For Democratic voters, the race for the oval office is particularly close, and what happens in Iowa could have a big impact for the rest of the year.

With polls placing Senator Bernie Sanders head-to-head against Hillary Clinton, every vote counts—including minority votes—even in a state that’s 92.1 percent white and only  3.4 percent African-American. Of the two front-runners, it’s hard to see which candidate represents minorities best, or if either Sanders or Clinton are representing minorities at all. The Reverends Emmett G. Price III and Irene Monroe joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio for their regular Monday feature, All Revved Up. According to Price and Monroe, the two Democratic rivals have dropped the ball in appealing to African-American voters, showing up “a day late and a dollar short.”

“The Clintons have really been no friend to African-Americans,” Monroe said, “The bigger issue is that they have pimped us.”

Monroe says she is not alone in her disappointment, yet continues to support Clinton. “I’m voting for Hillary [because] unlike Bernie, she will go into the African-American community, and because she will do that, we can leverage our votes in a way that we can’t reach Bernie,” she said.

The general perception is that Clinton will do well in states with a lot of African-Americans, which Monroe says is par for the course. “I think it’s apropos, for a lot of reasons,” she said.  “I think that one of the things is that there is this attitude that ‘I have this sealed, in the bag’ and I think black Democrats rightly feel that those candidates always take us for granted. I think she needs to understand that Bernie might very well take it tonight, and if he does, it will be a cascade event.”

If Clinton does succeed in Iowa, the question remains about whether Sanders will be able to create momentum nationally. “The Iowa story is really more about Bernie Sanders than it is about Hillary Clinton,” Price said. “Bernie did not do too much activity in Iowa, and the question is, will that hurt him, or will his platform avail some sympathizers?”

According to Monroe, Sanders relies too heavily on the idea that income inequality will level the playing field for everyone, regardless of race or gender. “He thinks this whole notion of economic inequality will be the panacea, the big umbrella that will just bring up everybody, all the boats that are sinking will just rise up with this formula,” Monroe said. “He’s done himself a disservice in terms of not reaching out to the African-American community, but I do think that… he’s a day late and a dollar short, for many reasons. I think that he will appeal, nonetheless, you’ll see  a generational divide. I think among college students, certainly, you will see a kind of groundswell, but then again, we understand that’s not usually the population that comes out in terms of large numbers.”

Can Sanders appeal to African-Americans purely on the basis of income inequality? “I also feel that he’s not going to do that well among African-Americans in general,” Monroe said, “even though his platform, in many ways, would address some of the perceived social ills that African-Americans face.”

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