Bernie Sanders campaign touts its diversity and fights 'the narrative of 2016'

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent
Bernie Sanders (Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP)

WASHINGTON — The leadership of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign held a press call with reporters on Tuesday where they touted figures showing the diversity of their staff and supporters. Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a co-chair of the Sanders campaign, said this was evidence the senator “is bringing the rainbow mosaic of humanity together all across this country.”

On his way to losing the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Sanders was dogged by the impression he was not popular with minorities and that many of his supporters were male “Bernie bros” who were hostile towards women.

“The senator is really popular and supported by a diverse coalition despite the narrative that is put out there from time to time,” Turner said on the call.

Turner went on to cite figures from a Harvard Institute of Politics youth poll, which was conducted last month and surveyed 18-to-29-year-old Democratic primary voters.

“He is leading among young women by about five points. … So the boys are following the girls and he has a lead among young Latinx voters. He leads by 19 points among that group,” said Turner.

Turner also pointed to a Morning Consult poll released last month, which said 71 percent of black Democrats had a favorable view of Sanders.

“It just continues to boggle my mind why people want to put out a narrative out that the African-American community is not vibing with Sen. Bernie Sanders. They are vibing with him,” Turner said, “And I know that anecdotally, but I know that from what the polls are saying.”

While that poll did show Sanders with high favorability among African-American voters, he trailed former Vice President Joe Biden in that category by six points. The two of them had higher favorability among black voters than any other likely Democratic primary candidates. Generally, polls of the field have showed Sanders and Biden on top.

Demonstrating strong support from minority voters is clearly a priority for Sanders’s campaign. In January, when Yahoo News first reported that Sanders was set to launch his White House bid, a source said one of the major factors behind his decision to run again was that he was heartened to see polls indicating he is one of the leading candidates among African-American and Latinx voters.

At the start of the press call, the main purpose of which was to announce Sanders’s fundraising haul of $18.2 million over the first 41 days of his presidential bid, his campaign manager Faiz Shakir also touted the diversity of the senator’s campaign staff.

“It was important to the senator that we have a campaign that reflects America and that it’s a camp that lives our values. … You see that in the diversity of the staff, quite frankly,” Shakir said, adding that the campaign’s staff is “roughly 40 percent of people of color” and women are in the majority.

According to Shakir, the campaign has a staff of “roughly 100 people” and the diversity is reflected in “each department.”

The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for a more detailed breakdown of their staff diversity statistics. However, the campaign’s top leadership includes people of color, including Shakir, who is Pakistani-American. Turner and the deputy campaign manager, Rene Spellman, are both African-American women.

Shakir also pointed to the campaign’s unionized workforce.

The perception that Sanders struggles with minority voters, particularly African-Americans, stemmed largely from his performance in the South Carolina primary in 2016. Sanders lost that state to Hillary Clinton, and exit polls indicated she earned over 80 percent of the black vote there. South Carolina is the first state on the Democratic primary calendar with a significant African-American electorate.

“We are assembling a strong team in South Carolina and [are] looking forward to being in that state in a very deep way,” Turner said, when asked on the press call if Sanders would be aiming to win the state this time around.

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