Long before news broke on Tuesday that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had won the New Hampshire primary with 60 percent of the vote, another election story made headlines. The Daily Beast reported that the Reverend Al Sharpton and Sanders would dine together at Sylvia’s Restaurant, the same place the MSNBC anchor and influential (and controversial) public figure met with then-Senator Barack Obama during the latter’s 2008 campaign. Sure enough, after Tuesday’s win, Wednesday morning found Sharpton greeting Sanders outside the Harlem eatery amidst a crowd of reporters and cheering supporters. So, what does this mean?
Simply put, it means Sanders and his team are seeking help ahead of the pivotal South Carolina Democratic Primary on Feb. 27, where rival Hillary Clinton generally leads in state polls among black voters. Yes, the 74-year-old Vermont senator has garnered the endorsements of notable African-American figures like Killer Mike (which serves as an interesting example per their age gap), ex-NAACP president Ben Jealous and Ohio State Senator Nina Turner. Yet these public and political displays of support still haven’t been enough to sway the southern state’s Democrats into Sanders’ court. Hence breakfast with Sharpton in Harlem.
The reverend told The Daily Beast he wasn’t surprised either Sanders or Clinton, who will appear on Sharpton’s MSNBC program, came to him.
“I think that they have dealt with the reality that if people are going to address issues they will have to address them with the people involved in the issues… You cannot appoint our leadership for us… I may not be the establishment’s choice, but I was the choice for [the families of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice]… I led those fights at the request of those families.”
That being said, Sharpton made sure to emphasize that neither Sanders’ breakfast nor Clinton’s sit-down would immediately result in an endorsement. They were just meetings with the Democratic party’s two remaining contenders for the nomination and, come November, the White House.
Yet a nomination from Sharpton (and those among his influence) would provide a major boost for whichever presidential candidate receives it. After all, as NPR points out, more than half of the voters who participated in South Carolina’s 2008 primary were black. Obama swept Clinton as a result, beating the then-New York senator by 29 percentage points. All polls indicate that her lead over Sanders in the state hasn’t abated from its double-digit numbers, but there’s still plenty of time between now and the last Saturday in February.
Much of what Sharpton and Sanders discussed during their meal was kept between the two men, though the press was allowed to photograph and record portions of the conversation.