Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — whose home state is more than 95% white — has said that he will make a notable appeal to minority voters in his 2016 bid for president.
“We’re going to significantly increase that,” Sanders said to reporters after a campaign stop in Nashua, New Hampshire on Saturday. “The views that we hold are important to all Americans … but to be honest with you, they’re probably more relevant to black and Hispanic voters … because the poverty rate in those communities is even higher than whites.”
Sanders has generated unexpected levels of enthusiasm in his campaign and recently drew thousands to events in Denver and Minneapolis. However, he continues to have trouble gaining traction with African-American voters.
The senator had recently planned events in South Carolina designed as outreach to African-Americans in the early primary state, but the massacre of nine at a church in Charleston led Sanders to put those events on hold. One day after the tragedy, Sanders was criticized for holding a rally about pensions not far from an ongoing prayer vigil for those killed in the attack. His campaign, however, soon issued an email soliciting donations to benefit the church where the shooting took place.
Sanders is “virtually unknown to many African-Americans,” his advisers admitted to The New York Times on Wednesday. Minorities represent a crucial portion of Democratic voters, and 95% said they could see themselves voting for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. In comparison, only about 25% of minority voters could foresee supporting Sanders.
Though he has a long history as a civil rights activist, the self-described “democratic socialist” also bears a mixed record on gun control. He voted against the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which was signed into law by then President Bill Clinton and requires mandatory background checks and five-day waiting periods for those purchasing guns.
Two days after the deadly shooting in Charleston, Sanders held a moment of silence in memory of the victims before speaking at an event in Las Vegas. Nonetheless, he remained careful in his remarks afterward about gun control. Sanders e underlined the difference between guns in rural areas — which dominate Vermont — and in urban cities, a point he reiterated on Saturday in New Hampshire.
When questioned about his record, Sanders pointed to his stance against high-capacity assualt weapons, a point he’s made previously, as well. He also noted his poor standing with the National Rifle Association, telling reporters that the organization rated him “somewhere between a D and F.”