Sanders at last minute scraps speech tailored to black voters

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders says Michigan is critically important as the state’s primary approaches.

Sen. Bernie Sanders was expected to deliver a speech tailored to African American voters Saturday night, but what he gave instead was a roughly thirty-minute stump speech — without a single mention of how his record is better suited than Joe Biden‘s to serve the black community.

Sanders’ event in Flint, Michigan, which was billed as a “racial and economic justice town hall” with the Democratic presidential candidate, drew a largely white crowd. Ahead of the Vermont senator’s remarks to the gathering, campaign communications director Mike Casa told reporters that Sanders “will tonight directly address the African American community and make the case for why black voters should support him over Vice President Biden.” The campaign’s targeted effort to address the demographic — a crucial Democratic voting bloc that Biden has performed well with — would have marked a notable departure for a candidate known to stick to a core message rooted in income and wealth inequality and widespread corporate greed.

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After delivering his more standard remarks, Sanders introduced the six members of the panel, most of whom were community leaders of color.

Casca, when asked why Sanders scrapped a speech he had been crafting all day, said the Vermont senator talked to the panelists backstage before the event and decided “it was better to let the people of color discuss their experiences.”

“He does not have those experiences,” Casca told reporters. “He is a white Jewish man.”

Since underperforming on Super Tuesday, Sanders has made concerted efforts to draw distinctions between himself and Biden on a variety of issues, from Social Security to trade to the Iraq War and even women’s reproductive rights.

But having canceled a visit to Jackson, Mississippi, where he would have appeared with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, a rising progressive star who recently endorsed him, in an effort to focus more on Tuesday’s Michigan primary, Sanders could have benefited from the opportunity to speak directly to the black community.

Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination seemed as if it had stalled following a string of disappointing performances throughout February. He came in fourth place in the Iowa caucuses, fifth in the New Hampshire primary and in the Nevada caucuses, he came in a distant second to Sanders, who had recently taken the front-runner status. But the former vice president racked up wins on Super Tuesday, in part because black voters carried him in the South.

Casca said it was Sanders’ decision to ultimately not deliver the speech as planned and instead carry the intended message through the panelists, but he argued the tenants of the initial speech were still represented at the event, saying: “It all got talked about, it was just through the panel and not the speech.”

Casca would not share any details from Sanders’ undelivered speech, including any policy points that specifically serve African Americans better than Biden.

Sanders told the group Saturday that “the same old, same old status quo politics” is “a politics which has failed the African American community,” but also made no specific mention of how his agenda is better for the community than Biden’s.

The Vermont senator instead teed up the panelists to attack Biden’s African American support on his behalf.

He read Dr. Cornell West, a top surrogate for the campaign, a Detroit News headline — “Biden sees advantage with Michigan black voters” — asking, “Do you think given the reality of the condition of the African American community right now that supporting a status quo, same old, same old type of politicians is going to address these issues?”

“Skin pigmentation doesn’t determine your moral and spiritual formation,” West responded. “My dear brother Bernie Sanders exemplifies integrity, honesty and decency. Do you know how rare that is in the political class?”

“The neo-liberalist who all of a sudden now is coming back to life and the catalyst was my own black people. Oh, I’m so disappointed. Oh I’m so upset,” West also said, referencing Biden and the African American voters who have given resurgence to the former vice president’s campaign.

Panelist Dr. Victoria Dooley, a pediatrician in Michigan, praised Sanders’ health care proposals.

“So here comes Sen. Bernie Sanders, and he says that black lives matter so much to him that he is the only candidate who believes that we all deserve health insurance our whole damn lives,” she said.

“You see Sen. Sanders is not here to pander, he’s here to provide answers. Answers to the problems that we are suffering in this community,” she added.

Jennifer Epps-Addison, the president of think tank Center for Popular Democracy, added that “our movements have been telling this country what our liberation looks like for generations, we just haven’t had politicians who listen.”

“Sen. Sanders understands that we don’t need, and I love my white brother, but we don’t need white politicians to tell us as black people what we need for liberation,” she said.