Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign got a boost ahead of the South Carolina primary with the endorsement of the Congressional Black Caucus’s political arm, but there are concerns among African-American lawmakers on Capitol Hill that her campaign isn’t doing enough to court younger voters.
“Obviously, the day she is spending in New York retooling the message is absolutely needed. Millennials are important to whoever is elected president,” Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Clinton backer, told CNN. He said he wanted to see the Clinton campaign use younger supporters who hold political positions in key states to validate its message and explain why younger voters should support her candidacy.
New York Rep. Gregory Meeks has been a longtime Clinton supporter and headed up the effort to nail down the CBC’s political endorsement. But he admitted he was surprised by the high number of millennial voters who are gravitating toward Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I’ve been scratching my head to determine why the young individuals that you see, especially the young women etc. are so fired up apparently on Bernie Sanders, in the last two elections in Iowa and New Hampshire,” the lawmaker from New York told CNN.
Several CBC members said the makeup of the early primary states, with mostly white populations, gave Sanders an advantage, but they agreed that the Clinton campaign needs a bigger focus using younger surrogates to explain why Sanders’ policy proposals such as free college education and universal health care aren’t doable in the current political climate.
“I’m probably the wrong messenger to do that, so what has to be done is getting some young people — and young people love celebrities — that they listen to, to deliver that message,” Meeks said.
North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield, the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus who already endorsed Clinton earlier this year, maintained that younger voters were lining up behind Sanders because they were “inexperienced.”
“Many of these are first-time voters, and Senator Sanders’ message resonates with the younger generation because of the promises he’s making. But Ms. Clinton and others are going to challenge the message by suggesting that it’s unrealistic to believe that we can accomplish all of the things that Senator Sanders proposes,” Butterfield told reporters off the House floor on Wednesday.
Thompson said the campaign’s focus so far hasn’t included enough to target millennials. “Unless you have a message that encompasses the entire demographic, you are leaving a lot on the table for your opposition to take advantage of.”
Clinton received support from 90% of the CBC’s political action committee in the vote by the board, and Sanders did not receive any votes. But Meeks said some members of the board abstained because they have not decided which candidate they will back yet. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who backs Sanders, does not sit on the CBC PAC’s board.
Both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns are targeting the seven historically black universities in South Carolina, and Butterfield told reporters he knew of at least a dozen CBC members who would join him on the campaign trail in the state to boost Clinton’s efforts.