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Black Female Voters In South Carolina Mull Presidential Candidates


As a group, black women are the most reliable voters for the Democratic Party. And over the weekend in South Carolina, the party's presidential candidates were campaigning for their votes. Right now former Vice President Joe Biden has a formidable lead in the polls there. But as NPR correspondent Susan Davis reports from South Carolina, black women's support for Biden is not locked in.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Joe Biden came into this weekend's Democratic convention in South Carolina facing criticism from rivals over his comment about how, back in the day, he was able to work with segregationists in the Senate. But that has nothing to do with why Brenda Wright isn't supporting him for the nomination.

BRENDA WRIGHT: You know what I'm saying? If you're in your - your 76. It's time to go home and sit down. Look - I'm 60, So I'm ready to go home and sit down.

DAVIS: She says she wants to learn more about California senator Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke. If anything, the 23-candidate field is a bit much for her.

WRIGHT: I don't know. I can't choose one over the other because there's so many voices in your head trying to make a decision right now.

DAVIS: Part of the reason why Biden's support appears soft here is because of voters like Wanda Hampton. Biden's got her vote - for now.

WANDA HAMPTON: For the last eight years, he was the vice president and got to know him a whole lot, you know. But I'm still learning stuff.

DAVIS: Dianne Barnes is a retired election official, and she is leaning Elizabeth Warren.

DIANNE BARNES: Because she has a plan. At least she can answer your questions. And she's always been into breaking up the banks and looking out for the little guy.

DAVIS: Barnes also thinks all of the candidates need to do a better job about recognizing the importance of black voters.

BARNES: The party in general needs to acknowledge black women, but just black people in general. They're always talking about the white working class. Well, you know, there's a black working class, too, that's struggling just as much as the white working class.

DAVIS: The 2020 presidential field is the most racially progressive ever. Proposals for reparations and fair housing fill nearly all of the candidates' stump speeches. But black women here over the weekend mostly said they're motivated by universal economic concerns - how to get ahead in the world - and by one singular goal, says former college professor Tricia Motes.

TRICIA MOTES: Honestly, my first issue that I care most about is somebody who can beat the current president.

DAVIS: Electability. Motes says the candidates largely share the same ideas and values, so it's less about policies and more about who can win. For her right now, that's Kamala Harris. Plus, she says, they're both part of a black sorority - Alpha Kappa Alpha.

MOTES: She's my sister, so what can I do, right?

DAVIS: The toughest primary votes to win might be those of younger voters like Briana Hughey. She's 25, progressive and just kind of dissatisfied.

BRIANA HUGHEY: Nobody. No, nobody. Yeah. I'm not a particular fan of anybody right now.

DAVIS: The only thing she knows is what she does not want.

HUGHEY: I'm all for no more white men in office. All the white men that are running right now don't have my vote, including Bernie Sanders.

DAVIS: Hughey says Democratic presidential candidates too often take black women for granted because they know they can always rely on their vote. And that's true. But the turnout among black women can be make or break for Democrats. It was in 2016 when decreased black turnout helped defeat Hillary Clinton. Hughey says she didn't work hard enough to earn the black vote.

HUGHEY: She knew that the way that polls were going, she was estimated to win, and she didn't. And that hubris kind of kicked her in her own butt.

DAVIS: What every single candidate has going for them is that every woman I interviewed said they would vote for whoever the nominee is, no matter what. Deirdre Niblock says there's nothing that could stop her from voting next year.

DEIRDRE NIBLOCK: If I got to run to the polls, jump over a fence, it won't matter.

DAVIS: And that's something none of the candidates can take for granted.

Susan Davis, NPR News, Columbia, S.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF DO MAKE SAY THINK'S "END OF MUSIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.