Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders condemned a new wave of state anti-abortion laws during a rally that drew around 1,500 people to the lawn of Charlotte’s Central Piedmont Community College on Friday.
“Make no mistake about it, these laws are regressive and unconstitutional,” he told the late afternoon crowd. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that banning legal abortion (will) quite literally kill women.”
Sanders’ visit to North Carolina kicked off a weekend swing that also will take him to South Carolina and Alabama. At earlier stop Friday in Asheville drew 2,500 people.
In 2016, Sanders finished second to Hillary Clinton in the North Carolina primary, with 41 percent of the vote. This year, in a more crowded Democratic field, polls show him running second nationally and in South Carolina to former Vice President Joe Biden.
South Carolina holds one of 2020’s first presidential contests on Feb. 29. North Carolina and a dozen other states vote three days later on March 3.
As he did three years ago, Sanders blasted the income disparity that has most of the country’s wealth controlled by the richest 1 percent. He said he would fight for what he called economic, racial and environmental justice. He warned against a war with Iran, which he said would be “even worse” than America’s war in Iraq.
Some of his strongest words came in response to new abortion laws in states such as Alabama, Georgia and Missouri, where the legislature Friday passed a measure to criminalize abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape and incest.
“A woman’s right to control her body is a constitutional right,” he said. “We will not stop fighting until that right is secured once and for all.”
Sanders alluded to positions he advocated in 2016 that once seemed radical — including “Medicare for all,” a higher minimum wage and aggressive action on climate change — are now accepted by more Democrats.
Though he talked about racial justice and ending “institutional racism,” polls show Sanders continues to have trouble appealing to African-Americans. In 2016, exit polls showed him winning only 19 percent of the black vote in North Carolina and 14 percent in South Carolina.
Some say that hasn’t changed..
“Nothing has changed because nothing has changed with Sen. Sanders,” said Democrat Bakari Sellers, a former S.C. lawmaker and a CNN commentator. “It’s more than just saying, ‘I marched with Dr. (Martin Luther) King’.”
At an appearance in Texas last month, Sanders repeated his story about marching with King during the civil rights movement. There were loud groans from the audience, which included many black women.
Sanders spokeswoman Sarah Ford said the candidate is trying to make minority communities a priority, talking about issues such as racial justice as well as inequality in education, housing and income.
Sanders does have black supporters including Harvard University professor Cornel West and Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who introduced the Vermont senator in Charlotte Friday.
“I think he has the best policy ideas of all the candidates running to speak to African Americans,” said 19-year-old Adrian Sturdivant, an African-American who came to the rally from Wadesboro.
Poll shows Sanders trailing Biden
A poll this week in the Charleston Post & Courier showed Sanders trailing Biden 46 percent to 15 percent in the state, followed by other Democrats.
For black voters, “Biden has the Obama halo,” Sellers said.
There’s also the issue of electability.
The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Sanders leading President Donald Trump by about 5 percentage points. But it shows Biden leading by 8 points, more than any Democrat. And other polls show Trump beating Sanders.
“For the first time we’re seeing electability push somebody to the front, and right now that’s Biden,” said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Rock Hill’s Winthrop University. “That leaves Bernie in a double-lurch. He’s not seen as somebody who can beat Trump and he’s not been able to strongly connect to African-American voters in South Carolina who are absolutely critical.”