Former NAACP head backs Sanders, Shumlin lowers expectations for Clinton

MONTPELIER — Former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Ben Jealous officially endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president Friday afternoon, seeking to boost Sanders’ credibility with minority voters as the primary campaign grinds on after New Hampshire.

Ben Jealous (Courtesy photo)

Ben Jealous (Courtesy photo)

“Throughout his life, he has been a fearless, tireless and trustworthy champion for the right of all our nation’s children to have full and unfettered access to the American dream,” the 43-year-old Jealous said on a conference call with reporters.

Jealous, who was slated to appear alongside Sanders at a news conference in New Hampshire, did not arrive due to inclement weather. The campaign opted for a conference call instead.

Jealous served as the youngest-ever head of the NAACP from 2008 to 2012. The Sanders campaign is hoping his endorsement will help boost the Vermonter’s standing with African American and minority voters in Nevada and South Carolina, both of which will hold their presidential nominated states following New Hampshire on Tuesday.

“I think his support is going to be enormously important for us,” Sanders told reporters. “I look forward to working with Ben.”

Sanders has struggled to lock up support from African Americans and other minorities in his battle with Democratic primary rival Hillary Clinton. That demographic will become a much bigger part of the campaign after Tuesday. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are predominantly white.

“I think, frankly, that we do have the agenda that will make sense to the African American community,” Sanders said. “I think our job is to get that agenda out and Ben Jealous is going to be an enormous help.”

“We are not all that well-known, especially in the African American community. This is a valid concern,” Sanders added. “We look forward to campaigning with Ben as well as other great supporters.”

The senator predicted his campaign will do “a lot, lot better in South Carolina than people think we will.” Clinton has held a steady, large lead in South Carolina, where black voters make up about half of the Democratic electorate. Sanders said he expects to have momentum from his near-win in the Iowa caucuses and expected win in New Hampshire.

“I think sometimes things turn pretty quickly. In fact, in terms of then-Sen. Obama’s campaign, he wasn’t doing well in South Carolina until he won Iowa,” he said. “I think that you are going to see some significant closing of the gap in South Carolina and Nevada as well.”

He noted that “winning is when you get more votes than the other guy,” and his campaign is “in this thing to win.” But he said a strong showing in South Carolina where he has consistently lagged in the polls would also make a strong statement.

“We have made huge progress nationally. We made huge progress in Iowa. We made huge progress in New Hampshire, where we were 30, 40 points behind. And we are making progress in South Carolina,” Sanders said. “Our goal is to win. Now, if we get 45 percent of the vote and we started off at 15 or 17 percent of the vote, most people would think that’s a pretty good showing. But our intent is to win South Carolina.”

Meanwhile, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, an early-backer of Clinton, reiterated the Clinton Campaign’s talking points Friday, looking to lower expectations in new Hampshire for the former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady.

Shumlin said Friday that Sanders “has a huge advantage in New Hampshire,” which he referred to as “Eastern Vermont,” because he hails from a bordering state, an argument that Clinton and her many surrogates have been making since Clinton barely edged out Sanders in the Iowa caucuses.

“We know they have a big decision to make. Obviously, Bernie is going to do very, very well in New Hampshire and Bernie’s making us proud as Vermonters. It’s going to be a long road to the nomination and there will be states, in my view, that will be friendlier to Hillary than Eastern Vermont,” Shumlin told the Vermont Press Bureau. “For many, many years New Hampshire has appreciated what Bernie has done for Vermont. They see him on TV. He’s a friend and you’ve got to expect that he’s going to do well.”

Shumlin said Sanders’ long-time service in Congress has been well-documented in the Granite State.

“I would argue that Bernie is better known as a U.S. senator than most because he’s been, first of all, in public service a lot longer than most of them, and secondly, he’s someone who always grabs headlines and is very good at articulating his views. So, it would be hard to live in New Hampshire and not appreciate Bernie,” he said.

Shumlin also argued that New Hampshire’s demographics are more favorable to Bernie. He did not mention, however, that Clinton won the New Hampshire primary in 2008 against then-Sen. Barack Obama, and has a long history of campaigning in the state dating back to her husband’s presidential campaigns.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. meets with supporters outside the Verizon Wireless Center, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. meets with supporters outside the Verizon Wireless Center, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

“This is what Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa have in common — we’re predominantly white, we’re predominantly older voters and we’re predominantly progressive, among Democratic primary voters,” Shumlin said. “There’s some real similarities between the three states. Bernie should do very, very well in Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire and he will.”

Shumlin declined to say what success in New Hampshire will be for Clinton.

“I’m not going to go there,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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