Hillary Clinton and Race and Youth: A Snapshot from South Carolina

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One thing that has struck me in the day and a half I have spent with the Hillary Clinton campaign here in South Carolina is how white her audiences have been. This, as we have noted, is a state where half the Democratic electorate is African-American, and the Clintons’ bond with that community is legendary. But at a stop yesterday at Anderson County Civic Center, I counted no more than 20 black faces in a crowd of around 800. And even Bill is not proving to be the draw you might imagine among African-Americans. My colleague Jay Newton-Small estimated there were about 25 African-Americans among the 200 people who attended a Bill Clinton appearance in Burnwell last night.

So I was particularly interested to see how she was received this morning at historically black Benedict College in Columbia. Barack Obama’s name was never mentioned. However, the tone of the event was set by Stacey Jones, dean of science, who implored the students to “focus on our future, rather than acting on pure emotion.” Clinton was also accompanied by former New York Mayor David Dinkins and New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rangel’s is the most powerful chairmanship in Congress, Clinton told the audience of several hundred. “He didn’t get there by leapfrogging. He got there by lots of hard work.” Dinkins admonished: “Lofty rhetoric is nice, but ultimately, you have to govern.”

This message of experience over excitement went over about as well as you might have expected it to with any college crowd, regardless of race. The applause was subdued, and came mostly from the older people who were there. (“Walking on eggshells,” the man next to me whispered.) What may have been most telling of all, however, was the double edge of the line in her speech that drew the biggest applause:

“I don’t need to go back and live in the White House. I’ve done that.”

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