CAPITOL HILL—After Bernie Sanders won big in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, both he and rival Hillary Clinton are shifting their focus to the next contests in Nevada and South Carolina, states with many more Hispanic and African American voters.
In South Carolina, black voters make up the majority of the Democratic primary electorate. Some African American lawmakers are lining up to support Clinton in the face of a perceived surge by Sanders.
On Thursday, the political wing of the Congressional Black Caucus, known as the CBC PAC, endorsed former secretary of state Clinton.
The CBC PAC, or political action committee, has 19 board members and is separate from the larger Congressional Black Caucus, which has not endorsed a candidate.
CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield said members looked long and hard at all the candidates and chose Clinton: “There is no question in my mind and in our mind that one single candidate, one, possesses the qualifications, experience and temperament to be the next president of the United States…”
Butterfield said black voters also care a great deal about foreign affairs, and that Clinton is the most qualified to be both president and commander-in-chief.
Another member of the PAC group, civil rights icon and Representative John Lewis, was asked why he is not supporting Sanders. Sanders has described himself as a young activist during the civil rights era in the 1960s, saying he participated in the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lewis’ comment on Sanders was scathing: “I never saw him. I never met him.” Lewis went on to say that he did meet Hillary Clinton and former president Bill Clinton during the civil rights struggle.
One of the most influential South Carolina Democrats did not attend Thursday’s PAC press conference, Representative James Clyburn. Clyburn says he has not decided whom to endorse yet, and wants to go home to South Carolina to discuss it with his family.
Clyburn told USA Today that “his heart and his head are not in the same place” on whether to endorse Clinton or Sanders.
Clinton has won the endorsement of a large number of Democratic members of Congress, while only two House lawmakers, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, have endorsed Sanders. Representative Ellison is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and he accused the PAC of endorsing Clinton without seeking input from him and other members.
Coming off his win in New Hampshire, Sanders met the next morning in New York with African American activist, the Reverend Al Sharpton. Sharpton has not endorsed either candidate. Sanders did win the endorsement of Ta-Nehesi Coates of The Atlantic, one of the most prominent U.S. writers on racism issues.
Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus are vowing to campaign hard for Clinton in South Carolina, saying her firm stance on taking action to reduce gun violence will be an important asset for her there.