Clinton’s Southern bulwark

Clinton’s Southern bulwark

By Hastings Wyman –

The conventional wisdom, and it is probably correct, is that since she performed well in the debate, since Vice-president Joe Biden decided not to run, and since she escaped unscathed from the House Benghazi hearing, Hillary Clinton appears to have a lead-pipe cinch on the Democratic presidential nomination.

The polls showed she was strong even before Biden’s withdrawal. A Washington Post/ABC News poll, taken after the debate but before Biden’s announcement, gave Clinton 54% to 23% for Bernie Sanders, 16% for Biden and 8% others/no opinion. And a Monmouth University poll released about the same time, showed Clinton with 48%, Sanders 21% and Biden 17%. In both of these surveys, Clinton increased her lead over her pre-debate showing. Moreover, in a mid-October poll, Rasmussen Reports found that 78% of likely Democratic voters believed Clinton will be their party’s nominee.

As an indication of how Clinton might fare without Biden in the race, in an Elon University survey of North Carolina Democrats, taken in mid-September but not including Biden, Clinton led Sanders by 30 points.

Thus, even should liberal activists in the Northeast, on the West Coast and on college campuses across the country mount a major campaign for Sanders, similar to Eugene McCarthy’s presidential bid in 1968, it is likely to get very little realistic traction. Although his left-leaning views are palatable to the South’s black political establishment, Sanders does not have the Clintons’ history of long-time association with them, interrupted only by the 2008 primaries when black voters moved en masse into Barrack Obama’s camp. Indeed, a major part of Sanders’ problem is that he hails from Vermont, a state where African Americans account for only 1% of the population, providing him neither experience nor contacts that would help him with black voters.

In addition, Clinton was far and away ahead in the endorsement sweepstakes even before Biden announced he was not running. According to fivethirtyeight.com, which compiled a list of Democratic governors, US Senators and US Representatives who had given their public support to a presidential candidate, as of October 15, Clinton had 233 officeholders on her side, to 3 for Biden, 2 for Sanders and 1 for O’Malley.

Clinton’s support among Democratic officeholders in the South is impressive, especially among minorities. Of the 18 African-American Democrats in Congress from the South, Clinton has been endorsed by 11. In addition, she has the support of all four Latino US Representatives from Texas.

As noted in Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Clinton polls more than 60%, and sometimes as high as 65%, among non-white Democrats. The importance of this cannot be overstressed: In six Southern Democratic Primaries (SC, GA, AL, MS, LA & TX), black voters usually account for 50% or more of the turn out and make up an important share in the other Southern states as well.

Clinton has not relied solely on the backing of key black politicos; she has also weighed in on civil rights controversies. In a speech in Alabama, she lambasted Republican Gov. Robert Bentley for closing 31 drivers’ license/voter registration offices, mainly in rural counties with a high percentage of African Americans. “Fifty years after Rosa Parks sat and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched and John Lewis bled, it is hard to believe that we are back having this same debate,” she said.

In South Carolina, which holds the first Southern Democratic Primary on February 27, her backers include former Gov. Dick Riley and well-regarded state Rep. Bakari Sellers, son of civil rights activist Cleveland Sellers. She has not, however, been endorsed by US Rep. Jim Clyburn (D), arguably the most influential Democrat in the state, who will host a forum for the three candidates remaining in the race on Saturday. Clyburn and Bill Clinton crossed swords in 2008 and the wounds have not quite healed. However, Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the state is being managed by Clay Middleton, a former top aide to Clyburn, who was active in Obama’s campaigns in the state in 2008 and 2012. Finally, a CNN voter survey in the state in early October gave Clinton 70% to Sanders’ 20%.

In the other Southern states, Clinton has similar muscle among Democratic powers-that-be. For examples:

In Georgia, US Rep. John Lewis (D) and a number of major Democrats are supporting Clinton. The list includes former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and state Democratic chair DuBose Porter. “She is ready to be president on day one,” Lewis said in a statement, adding that Clinton “has my wholehearted endorsement.”

In Tennessee, her 46-member “Leadership Council” includes the state’s two Democratic congressmen, Jim Cooper and Steve Cohen, as well as 16 legislators, three former congressmen and a number of party leaders.

In Texas, Clinton’s committee of prominent supporters includes eight of the 11 Lone Star Democrats in Congress, seven of the 11 Democrats in the state Senate, and 32 of the 52 in the state House of Representatives.

Despite the major improvement in her prospects in the past several weeks, Ken Fernandez, Director of North Carolina’s Elon University Poll, suggests there’s a downside for Clinton that Biden is not running. He acknowledges that Biden’s withdrawal “makes her ability to win the primaries much easier.” He says, however, that Biden “would have brought more attention to the Democratic race… In the long run, it would have helped her come out as a stronger candidate.”

Clinton’s camp, however, is understandably delighted with Biden’s decision.