Tuesday 6 December 2016

Emails show how Clinton campaign courted black voters

Published 23/10/2016 | 01:01

Hillary Clinton's campaign debated whether she should give a major speech on race (AP)
Hillary Clinton's campaign debated whether she should give a major speech on race (AP)

Hacked emails from the personal account of Hillary Clinton's campaign chief show some of the attention her team paid to courting black voters.

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There were worries about Vermont senator Bernie Sanders' appeal to that historically Democratic voter group, angst over whether Mrs Clinton should give a major speech on race relations and a South Carolina Democratic Party official voiced concerns that Mrs Clinton had not visited a particular region of the state.

The emails were among hundreds released on Saturday by WikiLeaks. The notes were stolen from the email account of John Podesta, the Clinton campaign's chairman, as part of a series of high-profile computer hacks of Democratic targets that US intelligence officials say were orchestrated by Russia, with the intent to influence the November 8 election.

It was impossible to authenticate each email that WikiLeaks published, but Democrats have openly acknowledged they were hacked and have not pointed to any specific case where an email was altered to inflict political damage.

RACE SPEECH

Mrs Clinton's campaign debated the merits of whether she should give a major speech on race.

Her chief speechwriter Dan Schwerin emailed Mr Podesta, communications director Jennifer Palmieri and others in February 2016 to say that, as conceived, the speech would demonstrate Mrs Clinton's "sustained and comprehensive commitment" to improving race relations and her life-long sympathy towards the plight of minorities in the US.

Both former US president Bill Clinton and his wife were clear that the speech should not be "a big mea culpa", but Mr Clinton also said "we shouldn't try to defend the indefensible".

Mr Schwerin went on to say that adviser Minyon Moore had raised tough questions about the wisdom of making the speech because it could "unintentionally end up elevating questions that aren't yet being widely asked and introduce new damaging information, especially super predator, to a lot more voters".

In a 1996 speech about Bill Clinton's crime bill when she was first lady, Mrs Clinton described young people in gangs as "super-predators".

Some blacks find the term offensive and have sought during the campaign to hold her accountable for it. Mrs Clinton has said she regrets using the term.

After a "gut check" conversation with Ms Moore and subsequent talks with policy advisers Jake Sullivan and Maya Harris, Mr Schwerin says in the email that the campaign hierarchy is "mostly persuaded" by Ms Moore's concerns. Instead, a decision to push the Supreme Court nomination issue could replace the race speech.

Mr Schwerin ultimately closes his memo with the idea that "if we're slipping fast, maybe it's worth rolling the dice and doing the speech. If we're holding relatively steady, maybe we see if we can ride this out without doing the speech".

Mrs Clinton offered a detailed plan to overcome racial disparities in a speech in Harlem in February.

PEE DEE REGION

In an apparent effort to court young African-American voters in South Carolina's Pee Dee region, Clinton staffers promised Jamie Harrison, the state's Democratic Party chairman, that she would not overlook his area. They also offered up some bold names in black entertainment who could stump for votes.

In a January 28 email, Brynne Craig, deputy director of State Campaigns for Hillary for America, summarises a conversation with Mr Harrison, who is unhappy that Mrs Clinton has not visited the Pee Dee region, the north-eastern corner of the state and about 100 miles east of Columbia, the state capital.

Mr Craig says he assured Mr Harrison that such a visit was a top priority for the former first lady, or her husband. Mrs Clinton visited the region in late February and later won the state's Democratic presidential primary.

Mr Craig says Mr Harrison also mentioned the need to bring younger surrogates into the state, not just well-known, older politicos. He says he offered Mr Harrison a partial list of black entertainers they had asked to travel to the state, including singer Usher, actors Anthony Anderson and Gabrielle Union, and athletes Alonzo Mourning and Grant Hill.

Mr Craig says: "I feel confident we will be able to increase the amount of surrogates we have in South Carolina - more importantly the RIGHT kind."

BERNIE SANDERS

Mrs Clinton's campaign worried about Bernie Sanders' appeal to black voters, a key Democratic constituency that she counted on.

In a July 2015 email, Mr Podesta frets to other campaign staffers about Mr Sanders, who had challenged Mrs Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination all the way through to the end of the primary process.

The senator had built his campaign around an anti-Wall Street, anti-establishment message with strong appeal to progressives

In the email, Mr Podesta says of Mr Sanders, "He'll be at Sharpton rallies pretty soon", referring to civil rights activist Al Sharpton. "Still think we should do something with him on VRA Anniversary."

Mr Sanders visited Dallas and Houston in July 2015 for a series of town hall meetings in Southern cities to help boost his support.

Mrs Clinton called in to Mr Sharpton's nationally syndicated radio show on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on August 6 to appeal to blacks to turn out to vote during the primaries. Her subsequent support among blacks in the South helped her gain a big delegate advantage over Mr Sanders.

AP

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