BY KOBI AZOULAY
Super Tuesday might be the day Bernie Sanders meets his kryptonite.
Instead of an emerald green mineral causing him to writhe in pain, Sanders’ biggest weakness takes the form of African American voters blocking his path to the Democratic nomination.
According to entrance polls at the Nevada caucuses, Hillary Clinton beat Sanders among black voters 76 percent to 22 percent. Entrance polls are not exact, but taking other polls into account, like a recent one from CNN showing Clinton leading 65 percent to 28 percent among that demographic in South Carolina, make it realistic.
These numbers seem strange considering Sanders marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. and protested segregated housing in his college days, while Clinton campaigned for a presidential candidate who voted against the Civil Rights Act.
It likely stems from the fact that he has been a congressman in the 95 percent white Vermont for over 20 years. He has never had to appeal to African American voters, and even though he does have great ideas for issues important to them, his rhetoric seems a little out of touch.
Sanders criminal justice reform ideas are right in line with some Black Lives Matter proposals, but he often talks about them briefly before pivoting back to his trademark issue of economic inequality.
He is right to tie the two together because as he points out, African Americans are even more impacted by economic inequality than whites. To some in the black community though, this might make it seem like he is pandering.
Sanders does care about everyone regardless of race, but he needs to recognize his approach is not resonating among most African Americans.
A change of direction can only help, especially ahead of Super Tuesday when states with sizable African American populations like Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Virginia are set to vote.
Clinton has a double digit lead in recent polls in all of these states according to Real Clear Politics.
That is an ominous sign.
Sanders is ahead by single digits in recent Massachusetts and Colorado polls, and within single digits in Oklahoma. His only sizable lead is in his home-state of Vermont, but it has the lowest amount of pledged delegates up for grabs of any Super Tuesday state.
In fact, the states Clinton leads in are worth 786 pledged delegates, compared to Sanders’ 221. The delegates are awarded proportionally by the popular vote, or precincts for caucuses, which puts pressure on the insurgent democratic socialist to close the gap.
If the difference between the two remains roughly the same, Clinton could end the day over 100 pledged delegates ahead. With Sanders already over 400 super delegates, not beholden to popular vote, behind her, a crushing Super Tuesday loss could be nearly impossible to overcome.
There is still time for a heroic comeback.
Music producer Spike Lee recently endorsed Sanders and appeared in a radio ad for him. This is huge as Lee is deeply respected in the African American community.
He joins Former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Benjamin Jealous, Rapper Killer Mike and Erica Garner, the daughter of a man killed by NYPD in a high-profile case two years ago, as well-known African American Sanders supporters.
No doubt he has made in-roads, but a slight change in message could help.
He should highlight his past in the Civil Rights movement at every stump speech, and talk about the emotions that inspired him to get involved in the first place. Focus more attention on issues important to the African American community like racism without pivoting it back to economic issues too quickly.
Even if Sanders does not beat Clinton in the Super Tuesday states with large black populations, he must close the gap to keep pace with the former Secretary of State. If he loses by as big a margin as current polls indicate, it will likely be too much to overcome.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… Bernie Sanders? If Tuesday is filled with as much kryptonite as polls indicate, he sure hopes not.