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Black Women, Motivated To Oust Trump, Aren't Convinced Of Any Democrat Yet

Kanesha Adams stands in the parking lot outside of Jim Clyburn's World-Famous Fish Fry on June 21 in Columbia, S.C. The event featured appearances by 21 Democratic presidential candidates seeking voters in the early primary state. (Sean Rayford for NPR)
Kanesha Adams stands in the parking lot outside of Jim Clyburn's World-Famous Fish Fry on June 21 in Columbia, S.C. The event featured appearances by 21 Democratic presidential candidates seeking voters in the early primary state. (Sean Rayford for NPR)

Former Vice President Joe Biden weathered a weekend of stinging criticism from his Democratic rivals following his comment about his ability to work with segregationists to get things done in the Senate, but it appears to have had little impact on how voters here in South Carolina see him.

Bill collector Brenda Wright isn't supporting Biden for the nomination for an entirely different reason.

"If you're 76, it's time to go home and sit down. I'm 60, and I'm ready to go home and sit down," she joked.

Wright said she wants to learn more about California Sen. Kamala Harris, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke. If anything, the crowded candidate field is a bit much for her.

People walk down the sidewalk outside of Jim Clyburn's World-Famous Fish Fry. Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, in South Carolina's Democratic primary, a majority of votes will be cast by African Americans. ( Sean Rayford for NPR)

"It's like overwhelming sometimes when you listen to it," she said. "I can't choose one over the other, because it's like so many voices in your head trying to make a decision right now."

On the ground here, Biden's commanding lead in polling feels soft among Democratic voters. For example, retiree Wanda Hampton said Biden has her support, but she was open to switching her vote.

"For the last eight years, he was the vice president, got to know him a whole lot, you know?" she said. "But, I'm still learning stuff."

Another retiree Dianne Barnes is leaning toward Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She likes her economic proposals.

Supporters of Sen. Cory Booker share fans with the candidate's face. The 2020 presidential field, which includes at least three black candidates, is the most racially progressive ever. (Sean Rayford for NPR)

"She has a plan, at least she can answer your questions," Barnes said. "She's always been into breaking up the banks and looking out for the little guy."

Barnes also said the field needs to do a better job about recognizing the importance of black voters. Unlike Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — the other three early states — in South Carolina's Democratic primary, a majority of votes will be cast by African Americans. In 2016, black voters made up 61% of the primary electorate.

"The party in general needs to acknowledge black women, but just black people in general," Barnes said. "They're always talking about the 'white working class.' Well, you know, there's a black working class that's struggling just as much as the white working class."

The 2020 presidential field, which includes three black candidates of the two dozen currently running, is the most racially progressive ever. Proposals for reparations and racial justice are part of nearly all the candidates' platforms. However, black women interviewed by NPR said they were motivated more by universal economic concerns — how to get ahead in the world — and by one singular goal, said former college professor Tricia Motes.

Councilwoman Shaterica Neal and regional organizing director for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker rallies in Columbia. (Sean Rayford for NPR)

"Honestly, the first issue I care most about is who can beat the current president," she said.

Electability is a driving force among Democratic voters right now, but what it means is highly subjective. For Motes, she thinks Harris has the best chance to defeat Trump. They also share a bond through their sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

"She's my sister, so what can I do, right?" Motes said.

The toughest primary votes to win might be those of younger voters like Briana Hughey. She's 25, progressive and dissatisfied.

"I'm not a particular fan of anybody right now," she said. She only knows what she doesn't want. "I'm all for no more white men in office. All of the white men who are running right now don't have my vote, including [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders."

People wait in line outside of Jim Clyburn's World-Famous Fish Fry. Black women are the most consistent Democratic voters of any bloc of the electorate but turnout among black women can be make or break for Democrats. (Sean Rayford for NPR)

Hughey said Democratic presidential candidates too often take black women for granted, because they know they can always rely on their vote. It's largely true that black women are the most consistent Democratic voters of any bloc of the electorate, but turnout among black women can be make-or-break for Democrats. It was in 2016, when decreased black turnout contributed to Hillary Clinton's defeat.

"Clinton felt like she already won," Hughey said. "She knew that the way polls were going, she was estimated to win, and she didn't, and that hubris kind of kicked her in her own butt."

What every single Democratic candidate has to their advantage is every woman interviewed said they would vote for whoever the nominee is, no matter what. Educator Deirdre Niblock, said there is not a single thing that could stop her from voting in 2020.

"Not one," Niblock said. "If I got to run to the polls, jump over a fence, it won't matter."

Copyright NPR 2019.

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