Why Hillary’s Firewall Theory Doesn’t Add Up

After being on the receiving end of a major 22 point drubbing in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton and her supporters have in unison begun to tell America how that doesn’t make any difference in the race. They, as it happens, have a “firewall” of support among Black Democrats, an advantage so large that Bernie Sanders could never overcome it. The argument goes that the terrain shifts after New Hampshire into more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina, followed by an 11 State primary on March 1 that is heavily made up of Southern states, where half of the Democratic Primary electorate is going to be African-American. Bernie will lose most of these states and be dealt a knock out punch to his campaign. It’s a fine theory with just one problem – the holes are big enough to drive a bus through them.


Before we get any further, let’s quickly run through two things we will assume that may not happen. For starters, Bernie Sanders could absolutely win the black vote between now and when the South begins to vote. Yesterday, Cezar McKnight became the 6th African American South Carolina state legislator to endorse Bernie Sanders for President since the Iowa Caucus. In addition to Cornell West, and State Senator Nina TurnerThe Atlantic author and reparations activist Ta-Nehisi Coates has also endorsed Bernie for the nomination. While Michelle Alexander, author of the “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness” stopped short of endorsing Bernie, she penned a very compelling editorial in The Nation titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” In addition, black celebrities rapper Killer MikeDanny Glover and Harry Belafonte have also endorsed Bernie, thereby raising his visibility among African American voters. In short, the Black vote is much more in play than what Hillary Clinton and her surrogates would have you believe.

Similarly, there is also no guarantee that Clinton will lose the White vote as badly as she did in New Hampshire. If she remains competitive with it and has an edge with minority voters, that edge could certainly propel her to the nomination. So now that we have dispensed with the disclaimers, let’s explore the scenario where Bernie starts to win the white vote by solid margins, but loses the black vote by the same large margins that the polls are currently showing.


Some regurgitators of this theory claim that Hillary’s firewall is among African American voters, while others claim that it includes all non white voters, predominantly Latinos. According to polling before voting in Iowa began, Hillary’s whopping margins among black voters (anywhere from 45 to 74 points) are nowhere close to being matched among Latinos. As a matter of fact, Latino heavy Nevada polled Hillary just 12 points ahead. Bear in mind, this is before Bernie exceeded expectations in Iowa and thumped Hillary in New Hampshire, and proceeded to catch fire.

In fact, three weeks before that happened, Politico reported that Hillary’s firewall is nowhere close to fire proof in Nevada. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the Clinton campaign has already begun to downplay expectations about winning Nevada and focus instead on South Carolina.


So, how strong of a punch could the black vote deliver for Hillary on the 11 state contest after South Carolina? Strong, but certainly not a knock out because as it turns out, five of the eleven states, Vermont, Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma (which is a southern state but with only a 7% high African American population) don’t have a lot of black voters in them. Bernie’s campaign has targeted all of these states to essentially mitigate the damage Hillary might do in states like Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. The big prize, Texas, doesn’t have a lot of black voters either, but let’s say because it’s a large state and with a big media market, Bernie couldn’t make up ground to catch Hillary there and put that in Clinton’s column. After the record fundraising Bernie has pulled in, does anyone really think that splitting Super Tuesday 6-5 in Hillary’s favor will cause Bernie to get out? Not a chance. If anything, it might be seen as a complete dud for Hillary, having failed to deal him that knock out blow that her campaign is promising.

Meanwhile, where does Hillary go after Super Tuesday? Well, there are certainly other states with high African American populations in March, like Florida, Mississippi and Michigan, but not many after that. On the other hand, Bernie will be very strong in the midwest because if there is one thing Democrats there hate, it’s the disastrous trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the recently signed but yet to be ratified Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) where Bernie’s credentials are unimpeachable, and Hillary’s are, shall we say, less convincing. There would be over three dozen primaries and caucuses after Super Tuesday, for which Bernie has demonstrated he has and can raise the money from his small donors. If he can consolidate the white vote heading into future primaries, Bernie will be in an excellent position to dominate the delegate race even if black voters stay with Team Clinton.

Last but not least, let us not forget that while roughly half (some places less, some places more) of Southern democratic primary voters are black, the other half is white. How does Hillary do among those voters? We don’t have a lot of reliable polling yet, but even before the first votes were cast and Bernie got momentum, the best polled state in the South, which is South Carolina, shows Hillary losing southern white Democrats to Bernie by 22 points. While we don’t have the evidence that fresh new polling will undoubtedly bring, it’s practically certain that as a result of Bernie’s performance in Iowa and New Hampshire, that lead has grown. As a result, Hillary Clinton must now maintain margins among black voters of over 25 or even 30 points among them just to stay competitive statewide in the south. She would need to continue maintaining whopping margins of forty, fifty or more points just to insure a victory in states with large black electorates, which for reasons we have already covered won’t be enough to make her the nominee.

All in all, treat the theory of “Hillary’s firewall” as what it is – a self serving tale for Clinton’s donors and the media to keep them from setting their hair on fire. Even without looking at all this data, ask yourself one simple question. If Bill Clinton’s “comeback kid” performance in the 1992 New Hampshire primary gave him the nomination and the White House, if Hillary Clinton’s 2008 victory in New Hampshire helped her hang in against Barack Obama after losing Iowa to make it a 50 state contest, why is New Hampshire suddenly too small, too liberal, and too white to matter now that the Clintons lost it? Because that’s what the Clintons need it to be. In reality, this is still a very competitive nomination fight, and Bernie has an excellent chance of winning it.

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