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Bernie Sanders' Campaign Co-Chair On Black Voters

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In just a few weeks, the first primary votes of the 2020 presidential election campaign will be cast. First, there will be the Iowa caucuses, and then New Hampshire and South Carolina will hold their primaries in quick succession after that. We're going to begin this hour by taking a closer look at the race for the Democratic nomination for president from a couple of vantage points. In a few minutes, we'll hear about the push to reach voters door-to-door in New Hampshire.

First, though, we want to think about the role black voters could play in choosing the Democratic nominee. A new Washington Post-Ipsos poll just out yesterday shows former Vice President Joe Biden with a commanding lead among black Democratic voters with 48%. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a distant second with 20%. For more on what that means for the Sanders camp, I'm joined now by Nina Turner. The former Ohio state senator is national co-chair of the Sanders campaign.

Nina Turner, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

NINA TURNER: It's great to be here with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So you wrote an op-ed published today in The State, which is the daily published in Columbia, S.C., arguing that African American voters should choose Bernie Sanders over Joe Biden because you say that Biden has repeatedly betrayed black voters - your words - tough words - while Sanders has been an ally in the fight for racial and economic justice for years. So the first question I have is, you know, Bernie Sanders has been on debate stages with Joe Biden many times in recent months. Why doesn't he make that argument?

TURNER: Quite frankly, the debate stages have not really opened up a great, you know, conversation about race in ways that I would like to see it happen. Everybody on that stage should have to be able to answer for their record. And if you have been in public office as long as the vice president, you know, you should be able to speak to that record and not run from it or hide from it.

And it is important that the African American community be able to look at all of these candidates and determine what they have done, what they are doing, which will be a good indicator of what they will do in the future.

MARTIN: I think that the former vice president would make the argument - I think he's been making the argument that his candidacy in part represents a continuation of and a desire to extend the accomplishments of the Obama administration. And it seems that for the African Americans who support him, the polling suggests that they mainly support him because they see him as more electable. What do you say to that? I mean, you're saying that they should - that they're wrong, or...

TURNER: That is our most important priority as well, among having a true vision of transcendence for this country. Senator Bernie Sanders is the most electable. I mean, you juxtaposition his record to President Trump's record, you have a liar in the White House compared to Senator Sanders, who is honest and consistent. What I am asking our community to do is to take a deeper dive and to take a real look at these records to determine who has been the champion for justice not just in words - in deed.

MARTIN: In the poll that we mentioned earlier - the Washington Post-Ipsos poll - Senator Sanders actually leads among young black voters under the age of 35. And this seems to replicate the support the senator has among younger voters generally. First of all, why do you think that is? And - but why do you think that Senator Sanders seems to have a harder time increasing his support among older African Americans?

TURNER: I think the younger generation - you know, it's just power because they see his vision. They see the vision. They want to have somebody that is going to stand up and say the criminal injustice system is cruel, and it must be fixed.

MARTIN: OK. But why do you think it is that there is this gap between the older African American voters and the younger voters? I mean, is it that - to what do you attribute that?

TURNER: I mean, for the senator, you know, even in 2016, he struggled with older voters. We are turning the tide. But you have to earn - I want to say it is the job of anybody that's running, period, to earn the votes. And that really is my message to the African American community - to my community, our community - that people should have to earn the vote every single election cycle. And there's so much on the line for all of us right now to play with this.

MARTIN: Nina Turner is the national co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. We reached her on the campaign trail.

Nina Turner, thank you so much for joining us.

TURNER: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: We should mention that NPR reached out to the Biden campaign about Turner's op-ed, but a spokesperson declined to comment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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