Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told the Daily Beast Thursday that he believes racism forced white voters to forgo ballots for Democrats Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida.
Both Abrams and Gillum are now locked in tight races, and neither has conceded (though Andrew Gillum briefly threw in the towel Tuesday night, only to withdraw his concession when his loss percentage suddenly decreased to less than .5%, triggering a machine recount). But Bernie Sanders says that white voters could have put both of them over the edge had they been more “comfortable” selecting a candidate of color.
“I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” Sanders told The Daily Beast. “I think next time around, by the way, it will be a lot easier for them to do that.”
Sanders went on to underscore that both Gillum and Abrams had run very openly progressive campaigns — some might even call them “socialists” — but that their political beliefs probably had little to do with their (likely) narrow losses.
That’s not entirely true. As eagle-eyed analysts on social media pointed out, Florida has voted enthusiastically for minorities before. The state went for Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and minority candidates in down-ballot races didn’t fare as poorly as Gillum. Democrat Al Lawson crushed his opponent in the race for Florida’s 5th Congressional district, and long-term Democrats like Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson have been winning elections in the state for years (though all three represent much smaller constituencies).
All that said, both Gillum and Abrams are locked in recounts; they could still win, albeit by very narrow margins. It’s a little premature to declare that Abrams lost because Georgians are simply too racist, when Georgians might not have actually finished voting (there could be a runoff), and that Gillum lost because of deep-seated prejudices when he hasn’t actually officially lost yet.
So why is Bernie going the racism route? It may have less to do with his current status and more to do with his future plans.
Bernie hasn’t been one to adopt the “racism” excuse before, but it probably hasn’t escaped his nascent 2020 presidential campaign that he didn’t do well with minority voters in 2008, a deficit that probably cost him a number of primary wins. Sanders’ supporters are widely recognized as older, affluent, white progressives from urban and suburban districts, and in order to do better in 2020, Sanders will have to make obvious overtures to the minority community.
It’s also much easier for Bernie to explain progressives losing in key states by blaming an outside influence, and not the progressives themselves. The far left did very well in Democratic primaries and in uncontested races (like, for example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s race in New York), but in cases where they were challenged by more moderate Democrats — or even middle-of-the-road Republicans — they lost. Anyone looking to formulate a strategy for taking back the White House from President Donald Trump in 2020 would definitely notice that deficit.
If progressivism is losing its popularity, that’s bad news for the most progressive candidates on the 2020 roster.