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Fight for the Diversity Vote Intensifies as Week’s Primaries Focus on Michigan and Mississippi

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Late last week, Def Jam entrepreneur Russell Simmons announced he was supporting Hillary Clinton after reaching out to Bernie Sanders.

“I think that Bernie Sanders is overpromising,” Simmons said Friday on CNN. “He’s insensitive to the plight of black people.”

Reports say Simmons brought up some of his other personal issues like factory farming and animal agriculture, which Simmons as a vegan is against. The Sanders camp reportedly said Bernie was pro-farmer and that Americans love bacon.

That pretty much sealed the deal for animal lover Simmons to back Clinton.

Over the weekend, Clinton won big in delegate-rich Louisiana. But Sanders won in Kansas and Nebraska.

It may have been coincidence, but it was a positive weekend for at least one key African-American endorser.

To date, the backing of luminaries such as Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover, Cornell West and Spike Lee for Bernie Sanders has yet to produce the turnout expected for the Vermont senator.

On Super Tuesday the big name endorsers for Sanders couldn’t draw black voters to the polls to lead what is clearly necessary in this campaign—a diversity coalition of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian American voters.

On the big day March 1, Clinton won Super Tuesday’s biggest prize, Texas, with its 147 Democratic delegates. She also won Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and American Samoa.

Sanders won Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma and his home state.

But it was the black voters in the South who turned away from Sanders and his endorsers and toward Clinton.

Cornel West, the academic and activist, has been one of the most vocal Sanders proponents. He’s taken aim at Clinton endorsers like Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

West told Vice magazine that Clyburn and Lewis were part of a system, “in which politicians are well adjusted to injustice owing to their ties to big money, big banks, and big corporations, and turning their backs, for the most part, to poor people and working people. Poor people and working people become afterthoughts.”

Clinton supporter Simmons, himself a wealthy man, told CNN: “I think Sen. Clinton has been sensitive, supportive of the progressive agenda, she’s realistic in what she can get done, she’s able to beat the Republican candidate, and I think that Bernie Sanders would not be able to—or could lose—and I don’t wanna take that chance.”

On the GOP side, the campaign got a little less diverse last Friday as Dr. Ben Carson ended his presidential bid.

The retired neurosurgeon failed to attract voters on Super Tuesday and was unfairly relegated to the margins during the debates. At one point Carson begged his opponents to attack him so that by debate rules the moderators would be obligated to call on him. Carson said he would be working with evangelicals to get the vote out.

But the big story on the GOP side is the growing fear among establishment Republicans that Donald Trump would be the party’s standard bearer.

So far after big wins on Saturday in Louisiana and Kentucky, Trump augments his Super Tuesday victories to solidify his overwhelming lead.

Trump to date has alienated many diverse voters with his positions that include:  building a wall against immigrants, statements on Muslims entering the U.S., failure to strongly disavow David Duke and the KKK, just to name a few.

On Tuesday, the primaries in Michigan and Mississippi will provide a side-by-side comparison on who is attracting the black vote in the North and South.

Mississippi’s demographics are 59.7 percent white; 37.5 percent black; 1 percent Asian; 3 percent Hispanic.

Michigan’s demographics are 79 percent White: 14.2 percent African-American; 2.9 percent Asian; 4.8 percent Hispanic.

The victor—especially in the Democratic race—will be whomever can attract African-American voters and turn out a diverse coalition at the polls.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator who has covered presidential campaigns since 1984. He writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund at

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