July 27, 2015

Why Bernie Sanders needs to talk about race

The Supreme Court didn’t decide the election in 2000. Neither did Ralph Nader steal votes from the Democrats. Al Gore lost because he benched the best campaigner, Bill Clinton.

Gore was embarrassed by Clinton’s sexual misadventures and so didn’t have him campaign in traditional Democratic strongholds. The voter turnout was low enough in key states, such as Florida, that the race was close. It didn’t need to be close.

In a general election, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton don’t have to win votes from Donald Trump, Scott Walker, or any of the core Republican candidates. They have to energize their disaffected constituencies – minorities and young people in particular. If  black voters aren’t excited about Bernie, they’re not going to switch to any Republican in any significant numbers; they’re going to stay home. If Hillary can’t engage young people, they’re not going to vote for Marco Rubio in any significant numbers; they’re going to stay home.

Sanders has charmed the white liberals and made the campaign for the 2016 nomination interesting. If he is the nominee (largely because Clinton stumbles), most of the Clinton supporters will have little trouble voting for him. That, however, isn’t enough to win the election. He needs enthusiasm in the black community. So far, as noted by Clive McFarland, he’s embarrassingly unprepared.

There are some moderate, undecided voters who will study each candidate and make a choice on election day. I wish that the election was about winning their hearts and minds. Sadly, though, their numbers won’t matter compared the bigger impact of each part energizing its natural constituency.

The election will be decide more by who doesn’t vote than by who does.