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Among some black voters, a generational divide on Clinton vs. Sanders

Bruce Carter, founder of "Black Men for Bernie," talks to supporters in front of Los Angeles City Hall. The group is campaigning for Democrataic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in a tour bus wrapped in this slogan.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The president of the New Frontier Democratic Club made his hard pitch for voting for Hillary Clinton inside the South Los Angeles community room.

She will lead the charge for racial equality and fair pay for women, Mike Davis told the two dozen black men and women last month. She will fight for black families, he said, stretching his hosannas for the former secretary of state for a good 10 minutes.

Can we just take a vote to endorse Hillary, someone in the crowd said. “Let’s vote,” Davis agreed.

James Scriven Sr., 79, raised his hand high along with everybody except for two holdouts: Scriven’s two sons, Tabari, 39, and James Jr., 41.

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To their father’s mild displeasure, they were feeling the Bern.

“He has new ideas that will help the economy and create jobs,” Tabari, of Inglewood, said of Bernie Sanders. “Young people are trying to better themselves through education, but student loans are standing in the way.”

With the California primary set for Tuesday, polls suggest the race between Clinton and Sanders has tightened, although she still appears to hold a lead.

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A poll of black voters in California commissioned by the African American Voter Registration Education Participation Project conducted by Evitarus found that 71% of 800 likely voters surveyed supported Clinton. But among the black voters younger than 40, half said they would probably vote for Sanders, compared with 34% for Clinton. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

His sons’ support for Sanders did not sit well with the elder Scriven, who like many blacks has an enduring affection for Clinton’s husband.

“Bernie is not going to win,” Scriven said dismissively. “They will be voting for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.”

Despite her overall lead with blacks, Clinton did not neatly inherit the love many felt for Bill Clinton, who famously played a soulful saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1992 and whom novelist Toni Morrison later dubbed “the first black president.”

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If significant numbers of younger African Americans vote for Sanders, that could play an important role in a primary that Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said could be tight.

“There is no question that Sanders can win the California primary,” Schnur said. To do so, however, he would need an unusually large turnout of young voters, including young minority voters like the Scriven brothers.

Sanders leads Clinton among younger minority voters, as he does among younger whites, according to a new USC Dornsife / Los Angeles Times poll. Among Latinos under age 50, Sanders led 58% to 31%, the poll found. Among all younger minority voters, he led 59% to 32%. Clinton’s lead was large among older voters -- 64% to 20% among minority voters 50 and older, according to the poll.

Although there is virtually no possibility of Sanders’ winning the Democratic nomination -- Clinton likely will clinch the nomination before California’s votes are counted -- Sanders hopes a strong showing here will give him more influence going into the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

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Erin Aubry Kaplan, 54, author of “I Heart Obama” and an Inglewood resident, said that Hillary Clinton has not resonated with African Americans like her husband did.

“Bill was comfortable with black people,” she said. “He seemed empathetic, and to symbolize something I hadn’t felt in my voting lifetime. She is not Bill Clinton.”

On the other hand, some black voters say that they have reassessed the Bill Clinton presidency in a way that is not beneficial to Hillary Clinton.

“I look at the African American communities today and see how across the country we’ve regressed,” Magalis Videaux, 45, said outside a “Black Men for Bernie” bus in Leimert Park recently. “Not us as a people, but our communities are experiencing distress. I look back at some of the policies that came from the Clinton era, and it feels like they had deep-lasting negative impact.”

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She voted for Bill Clinton twice. But Videaux said she would not be voting for a Clinton this time.

Videaux said it was her 15-year-old son, Santiago Sloan, who pushed her to take a look at Sanders. The more she and the teenager studied the two Democratic candidates, the more Videaux’s son started to dislike the former first lady.

‘Let’s bring young super-predators to heel!’ I instantly thought of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, and that just shook me.

Santiago Sloan, 15

He stumbled across a 1996 speech, heavily publicized by Sanders backers, in which the former first lady spoke in support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, commonly referred to as the crime bill.

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“They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

For some blacks, including Videaux and her son, those remarks 20 years ago disparaged black children. The rhetoric hit home for Santiago, a black teen who sports an urban prep look, a fitted hoodie, a mini Afro and Chuck Taylors.

“Let’s bring young super-predators to heel!’’” Santiago said, incredulous. “I instantly thought of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, and that just shook me.”

His opposition to Clinton proved contagious, inspiring his mother to cast a vote for Sanders.

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Clinton’s supporters, including the former president as well as some prominent black elected officials, say that critics are wrongly viewing the crime policies of an earlier era through a contemporary lens. When the 1994 law passed, it was heavily supported by black mayors and other officials concerned about soaring homicide rates in minority communities.

Older African Americans remember living through the violence and drug epidemic of the 1990s and are more likely to understand the motivations behind the Clinton-era crime policies, Schnur said.

“A younger voter, just as smart and just as well read, didn’t experience that time period firsthand,” he added.

A generation later, Anthony Samad, host of the Urban Issues Forum, a Los Angeles-based roundtable that discusses issues that impact the black community, said that many on the left no longer view the Clintons as a force for progressive ideology.

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“What is the incentive then for us to support Hillary after we find out that she’s not really speaking the language of the masses,” Samad said. “There’s a perception that she’s inauthentic and partners with the status quo, which is corporate interest.”

Kenneth Finch, 49, of Ladera Heights said his beliefs align with Sanders, but fears he doesn’t have the support to win in a match against the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

“I like Bernie,” said Finch, as he sat atop his sleek black-and-chrome Yamaha motorcycle. “He has the right idea, but I’m more of a chess player, and any effort to support Bernie at this time point is a vote of Trump.”

Darryn Harris, president of the Black Los Angeles Young Democrats, said his club of 75 members chose not to endorse a candidate because of the 10 board members’ split vote. Older, more established members turned out for Clinton, and recent college graduates decided to vote for Sanders.

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Despite the split, some of the members -- worried about a Trump presidency -- felt Clinton was the only candidate who could stop the wealthy New York businessman from becoming president.

“Not that she’s the candidate that we really believe in,” Harris, 32, of Echo Park said. “It makes for a very interesting dinner conversation with our parents because our parents are mostly going with Hillary.”

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