This story was co-published with The Washington Post.
CHARLESTON, S.C. — With a day to go until the South Carolina Democratic primary, Black women are united in their opposition to President Trump.
But their opinions on who is best positioned to defeat him in November — the priority of a loyal voting base crucial to determining the Democratic nominee — are all over the map, as was evident at a shrimp-and-grits gathering less than a week before South Carolina’s primary on Saturday.
Many Black women in the room said former vice president Joe Biden is the safest bet, if not their favored candidate. Others have fallen in line behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), pledging to go with the woman they say best reflects their interests. Still others are open to candidates including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and billionaire businessman Tom Steyer.
The latest polling shows Biden with a lead in the state. If he wins, it would be a victory largely delivered by Black voters, who are the majority of the state’s Democratic primary and particularly Black women, who are the backbone of the Democratic Party nationally.
And almost all of them confessed to wrestling with a head-vs.-heart choice that often splits down generational lines — particularly after the December exit of the lone Black woman, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), from the 2020 field.
Democratic strategist Karen Finney said a similar dynamic unfolded in 2016, when Sanders did well among younger Black voters but Hillary Clinton won the state with more than 70 percent of the vote, largely with the support of the older African American electorate.
“Black women are very pragmatic, because we have to be,” Finney said. “Our lives are on the line. Older voters are asking: ‘Who do I know? Who can I trust?’ Younger voters are making a different kind of assessment in some ways.”
Asked Sunday whom she’ll support as the Democratic nominee, Claryce Gibbons-Allen, 69, answered “Biden” — but only after a long pause and a sigh.
“This is such a stressful primary,” she said. “It’s about getting rid of Trump. It’s winning. I know [Biden] from his relationship with President Obama. He has the passion. He has the experience. We need moral fiber right now. We need protection of our democracy.”
Her daughter, Chelsey Allen, agreed that Biden was the realistic choice, adding that candidates like Warren or Sanders held positions that were too liberal.
“They’re too far-fetched,” said Allen, 29. “They have ideas that won’t pass in this Congress. … I’d rather go for the safe bet.”
Brenda Bines-Watson, 70, said that she’s never been so undecided. While she said she shifted her support to Warren after Harris’s exit from the race, she wonders if America is ready to elect a woman.
“When I walk in that booth, I may change my mind, but she gets it,” Bines-Watson said.
Added Sharina Haynes, 35, a former Harris supporter: “Right now, Warren is doing the best job of centering Black women.”
It was a common refrain among the women in the Charleston room: regret that they wouldn’t be able to cast their ballot for the only candidate who looked like them this election cycle. Many said that with Harris out of the race, they were voting for their second choice.
“I feel like we’re ready for a woman,” said Tracy Bugg, 46. “I wanted it to be Kamala, but she dropped out.”
Bugg and her sister Ursula both said that they were convinced Warren could win — and that they would support her — after seeing the senator on the debate stage in Nevada. Tracy Bugg said that she had long ruled out Sanders and that Biden’s “time has passed.”
Kim Greene, 56, said she was also previously committed to Harris but now feels “we just have to go with who we think would represent us.” For her, Biden is “the most electable candidate.”
“We need someone that represents us and Trump does not,” she said. “Who will America vote for in a general election?”
Zan Coakley, 45, who had yet to make up her mind with less than a week to go, said that she was still “very undecided,” and that her vote would probably be “a chess move” aimed at beating Trump. While she’s a Warren fan, she said she’ll probably vote for Biden.
“I may not vote for my personal favorite, knowing what society is built and made of,” she said. “It almost feels like settling right now, but I can’t just think for myself. … I have to think for my country, for me as a Black woman, for all of us.”
At a debate watch party Tuesday in North Charleston hosted by Black Lives Matter, Eunice Freeman, 66, said she’s supporting Biden. But she said she’s hearing from younger Black voters who are looking seriously at Sanders, intrigued by his positions on eliminating student debt.
Joy Jennings, 45, said she’s leaning toward Sanders for that reason. But she’s concerned about whether he can win the general election.
“I’ve been told by colleagues of mine that Trump’s going to win just because of the way everything’s going,” she said. “I don’t like the fact that there’s so many different candidates. That hurts us as Democrats.”
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