By JONATHAN LEMIRE and KEN THOMAS
NEW YORK (AP) – Making a direct appeal to black voters, Hillary Clinton said Tuesday she would give African-Americans their next ally in the White House and offered a detailed plan to overcome racial disparities ahead of crucial primaries in South Carolina and the Deep South.
Clinton took her presidential campaign to Harlem in New York City, her focus squarely on solidifying support among black voters who twice backed her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and will be vital in upcoming contests against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The former secretary of state suggested black voters would find her proposals more far-reaching than Sanders’ warnings about economic inequality and the power of Wall Street. She said the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, underscored the complex and intersecting challenges facing black communities.
"It’s not enough for your economic plan to be, ‘Break up the banks,’" Clinton said. "You also need a serious plan to create jobs especially in places where unemployment remains stubbornly high."
Both Clinton and Sanders are making specific appeals to black voters after Sanders won a 22-point victory in last week’s New Hampshire’ primary, creating a potential opening with black voters for the self-described "democratic socialist." The Democratic candidates are vying for support in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses and then facing off in South Carolina on Feb. 27 and a series of March 1 "Super Tuesday" contests that include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Sanders has pushed back against Clinton’s contention that he is only a "single-issue" candidate and campaigned Tuesday in South Carolina, holding a prayer breakfast with black ministers and appearing with Erica Garner, whose father, Eric Garner, died from a police chokehold in New York City in 2014.
Sanders pledged to reduce income inequality and break up big financial institutions, but also stressed criminal justice reform and voting rights and reflected on the country’s racial history. "It is clear to everybody that we still have a long, long way to go," he said.
Clinton noted her solidarity with President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, pointing to his work to help the nation recover from recession and overhaul the health care system. In pointed comments about the Supreme Court, Clinton said some Republicans had vowed not to consider a successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia until the next administration.
"Some are even saying he doesn’t have the right to nominate anyone. As if somehow he’s not the real president," Clinton said. "You know, that’s in keeping with what we’ve heard all along, isn’t it? Many Republicans talk in coded racial language about takers and losers. They demonize President Obama and encourage the ugliest impulses of the paranoid fringe. This kind of hatred and bigotry has no place in our politics or our country."
Clinton’s address offered a laundry list of ideas to help African-Americans, including steps to provide job and housing opportunities, protect voting rights and support Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She also discussed a $2 billion proposal to address the "school-to-prison" pipeline, which aims to hire social workers and staff for school districts to curtail suspension rates among black students.
She coughed repeatedly during her speech and tried to soothe her throat with water and a lozenge. Her voice breaking, she said, "If you work with it and stick with it, you can make a difference."
Earlier, she met with several civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who met with Sanders following his New Hampshire victory last week. The heads of nine historic civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, praised Clinton but stopped short of backing her campaign.
Thomas reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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