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Making California’s communities of color ‘Feel the Bern'

A Bernie Sanders campaign sign outside a voter registration booth at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California.
A Bernie Sanders campaign sign outside a voter registration booth at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California.
Dan Tuffs for KPCC

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How do you make California’s communities of color ‘Feel the Bern?’

The Golden State is a must-win for Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator lags Clinton by over 700 delegates, who needs just 143 delegates to clinch the nomination. While Sanders admits that he faces a daunting climb, enthusiastic supporters continue to canvas the state ahead of the June 7th primary. 

California could present his biggest challenge yet, as one of the most diverse electorates in the country. For more on the plan to crack California, Take Two spoke to  Arturo Carmona, national deputy political director for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Carmona specializes in minority outreach. 

Back in November, Bernie Sanders held a rally in Northern Nevada aimed at wooing Latino voters. There was a mariachi band, posters in Spanish,  but few Latinos. Analysts said breaking through would be an uphill battle for him. Now, many polls show Clinton and Sanders nearly neck-and-neck with Latino voters nationwide. What’s changed? 

Starting in Nevada, we surprised the country by winning the Latino vote in Nevada. We went on to win many other Latino electorates, from Colorado to Illinois, to many other states. And that has — basically — been our consistent message that connects with Latinos — particularly with younger and middle-aged Latinos, which represent — demographically — the largest majority of the Latino population … We’ve been winning those voters consistently. The message about economic justice, about taking care of workers, taking care of university students, providing healthcare for all as a right, not a privilege;  that message has resonated, in addition to our very progressive and bold immigration platform that has really connected with immigrant families. 

(Note: Hillary Clinton won the Nevada primary.) 

During the 2008 primary, then Senator Obama lost the Latino vote to Hillary Clinton by a margin of nearly two-to-one. Analysts have called Latinos Clinton’s “firewall.” What were some of your tactics for getting Sanders noticed with Latinos?

We’ve had a very culturally competent approach to our messaging. We’ve embraced bilingual communications … We’ve had a real army of grassroots volunteers, from high school students to undocumented immigrants, to dreamers, to older and middle-aged Latino families … When you’re talking about California, our message and our campaign are perfect for the state. It’s a campaign that’s focused on people; that’s focused not on the political establishment or corporations in this country, not having a super PAC. So all of these issues combined make California a prime state for us and a state we intend to win. 

Sanders is gaining traction with Latinos, but an independent field poll released last month shows that Clinton has a wide lead among black voters. Sanders has struggled with black voters across in primaries the country. Why is he having trouble breaking through?

Well look, we’ve seen that with African American voters, we’ve consistently continued to improve. The fact is that Senator Sanders came from a state that is primarily white and has built relationships with the African Americans. We’ve progressively done better. And let’s face it, Secretary Clinton had a very long standing relationship with the African American community … Our agenda, every time we talk to African American voters, really connects. Whether you’re talking about criminal justice issues or closing down private prisons, to [the] treatment of police abuse … by far, our platform is the strongest and clearest. 

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