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Presidential campaigns competing for Mass. votes

Local voters have their say in presidential race tomorrow

Brian Wright O’Connor
Presidential campaigns competing for Mass. votes
Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg. BANNER FILE AND COURTESY PHOTOS

Bay State voters head to the Super Tuesday polls tomorrow to help pick the Democratic presidential nominee in the wake of a landslide victory by Joe Biden in South Carolina where the former vice president took 60% of the black vote in the Saturday primary and ended up 28 points ahead of second-place finisher Bernie Sanders.

Sanders, locked in a close race with Elizabeth Warren to win in Massachusetts, took 17% of the African American vote in the Palmetto State and 20% overall, slowing his momentum from topping the ballot in the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Warren finished fifth in South Carolina, with 7%, just behind Pete Buttigieg, who folded his campaign on Sunday after drawing a weak 8%, and also behind Tom Steyer, who quit after finishing with 11%.

The withdrawals by the billionaire Steyer and the 38-year-old former South Bend, Ind., mayor left Biden poised to win a larger share of the moderate vote in the Super Tuesday balloting when voters in 14 states go to the polls to choose one-third of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.

The contest nationally is increasingly shaping up to be a race between the septuagenarians Biden and Sanders. The 78-year-old Vermont senator maintains a lead in delegates, fundraising and staff on the ground and is expected to outperform his rivals in big states like California, where he has continued to lead in polls.

Biden, 77, all but dismissed weeks ago after desultory debate performances, slow fundraising and support among blacks dropping from 51% to 27%, arrived in South Carolina after being crushed in New Hampshire by Sanders to recharge his campaign in a state he had dubbed his firewall. Buoyed by a key endorsement from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a longtime friend and dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, Biden surpassed expectations and goes into Super Tuesday with improved chances in states with large black Democratic voting blocs, like Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia.

Louis A. Elisa II, a long-time member of the Democratic State Committee and a Warren supporter, called Biden’s South Carolina victory “predictable” and forecast a Bay State win for the home-state senator.

“Biden is my friend, but I’m supporting Elizabeth Warren,” said the Roxbury resident and former chair of the Ward 12 Democratic Committee.

Citing her work on consumer protection, restorative justice, education, housing, health care and fair lending, Elisa said Warren “has been a superb senator for the people of Massachusetts and communities of color.”

Warren has broad support from African American ministers, elected officials and activists in Massachusetts, including U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), but failed to translate that appeal to South Carolina and lags behind Sanders and Biden in other Super Tuesday states.

The Rev. Miniard Culpepper, pastor of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Roxbury, backs Warren but predicted that Sanders will do well among young people in Massachusetts.

“He has a revolutionary mind-set that appeals to younger voters,” said Culpepper. “These young folks don’t know the socialism that we know from the Cold War. They are so liberal, they have developed a socialist point of view that ties them right to Bernie.”

State Rep. Nika Elugardo (D-Boston), a co-chair of the Sanders campaign in Massachusetts, introduced the self-described Democratic Socialist and Vermont independent at a huge rally Saturday on the Boston Common, where he hammered home his now-familiar themes of sparking a revolution in American politics to implement single-payer health care, pass a $15 an hour minimum wage and defeat Donald Trump.

“Going beyond Super Tuesday, Bernie is in the best position to win the nomination based on his broad coalition and then beat Trump,” said Elugardo, a first-term Jamaica Plain legislator. “What South Carolina confirmed is that among older black voters, Biden is stronger than Bernie across the country but he has a big lead among younger voters across all demographics, including African Americans, and among working class people of all ages and races who have been marginalized for decades if not centuries.”

For voters concerned about Sanders’ ability to withstand a scorched-earth Republican ad barrage if he wins the nomination, Biden’s South Carolina win has revived his appeal. Biden’s rise, along with Michael Bloomberg’s poor debate performance under withering attacks by Warren, convinced Colette Phillips, who had been torn between the former New York City mayor and Biden, to go with President Barack Obama’s former vice president.

“Maybe it was a matter of ‘go big or go home’ for Joe Biden this past week,” said Phillips. “He was more aggressive at the debates, won Jim Clyburn’s endorsement and the overwhelming support of black voters in South Carolina. Look, Bloomberg got into the race when Biden was looking weak last fall. I want to beat Donald Trump and now Biden looks like the best one to do it.”

Bloomberg has spent over $500 million of his own money in a campaign that skipped the first four contests in order to focus on Super Tuesday. His self-financed fights to expand gun safety laws and combat climate change in the years after leaving Gracie Mansion positioned him for a national run but concerns over his controversial stop-and-frisk policies as mayor have dampened support among black voters.

Also on the ballot tomorrow and still running is Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has been excluded from recent debates. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota suspended her campaign today and will throw her support behind Biden, further coalescing moderate support behind the former Delaware senator.

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