Frank Discussions on Race Help Define Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Campaign
“I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy,” Mr. Obama said at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. But, he said, he believed that “working together, we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.”
As Mr. Obama spoke, his opponent in the Democratic nominating contest, Hillary Rodham Clinton, addressed an almost entirely white crowd nearby in Philadelphia. “Race and gender are difficult issues,” she told reporters asking about Mr. Obama’s address. “And, therefore, we need to have more discussion.”
Gov. Nikki Haley, center, embraced Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, surrounded by Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the State House on Monday.Nikki Haley, South Carolina Governor, Calls for Removal of Confederate Battle FlagJUNE 22, 2015
Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking Saturday at the United States Conference of Mayors in San Francisco.Hillary Clinton Calls America’s Struggle With Racism Far From OverJUNE 20, 2015
Hillary Rodham Clinton making a major policy speech Wednesday, the first since announcing her presidential run.Hillary Clinton Laments ‘Missing’ Black Men as Politicians Reflect on Baltimore UnrestAPRIL 29, 2015
Hillary Rodham Clinton at an event in Columbia, S.C., on Wednesday.First Draft: Hillary Clinton Calls for a Civil CampaignMAY 27, 2015
Seven years later, in a twist of current events and politics, Mrs. Clinton has become the presidential candidate at the forefront of that discussion. And the way that racial issues have shaped her early campaign has emerged as the most striking difference between her 2016 campaign and the failed bid of 2008.
Back then, as she wrestled uncomfortably in competing against the man who would become the first black president, Mrs. Clinton appeared reluctant to make race a central issue. And her husband, former President Bill Clinton, angered many African-American leaders with off-the-cuff comments that seemed to diminish Mr. Obama’s stature, including calling his antiwar position “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”
Now, Mrs. Clinton is offering sweeping and passionate speeches on race, which was one of the subjects that first drove her interest in politics in the 1960s and ’70s.
On Tuesday, she will hold a community meeting at a black church in Florissant, Mo., near Ferguson, where clashes between black protesters and police officers erupted last summer after an unarmed African-American teenager was killed by a white police officer. At the meeting, she plans to discuss the massacre of nine people last week at a black church in Charleston, S.C., and “broader issues around strengthening communities,” her campaign said.
On her Twitter account on Monday, Mrs. Clinton restated her belief that South Carolina should stop flying the Confederate flag on the grounds of its State House.
In April, as Baltimore became engulfed in protests over the death of a black man who died of injuries suffered while in police custody, Mrs. Clinton called for criminal justice reform and said it was “a time for honesty about race and justice in America.”
In Houston earlier this month, speaking to an almost entirely black crowd at Texas Southern University, once known as the Houston Colored Junior College, Mrs. Clinton evoked the legacy of Barbara Jordan, an alumna who served in the House of Representatives in the 1970s, and delivered an impassioned plea to make voting easier for the poor and African-Americans affected by new state voting laws.
And on Saturday, as Republican presidential candidates calibrated their responses to South Carolina’s display of the Confederate flag, Mrs. Clinton declared that “America’s long struggle with race is far from finished” despite “electing our first black president.”
She talked about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks. She called for gun-control measures, and she cited stark statistics, pointing out that black Americans are nearly three times as likely as whites to be denied a mortgage.
In 2013, the median wealth of black families, Mrs. Clinton said, was around $11,000, compared with more than $134,000 for white families. “How can it be true that black children are 500 percent more likely to die from asthma than white kids?” she said, growing visibly angrier with each data point. “Five hundred percent!”
In perhaps the boldest line of that address, which was delivered in San Francisco at a conference for mayors, Mrs. Clinton pointed to the so-called micro-aggressions of subtle racism — without explicitly using that term — that permeate college campuses, workplaces and communities.
“Our problem is not all kooks and Klansmen,” Mrs. Clinton said. “It’s also the cruel joke that goes unchallenged.”
Making the issue broader than a Southern state grappling with racism and its Confederate roots carries some risk for Mrs. Clinton, who relied heavily on the support of white working-class voters in 2008 in critical states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. In that nominating race, in addition to her husband’s remarks that set off anger among African-Americans, an important supporter of hers, Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, said he believed many of his state’s “conservative whites” were “probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate.”
But Mrs. Clinton appears not to have suffered any lingering resentment among black voters. In fact, some of her strongest support now comes from African-Americans. About 57 percent of black respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Mrs. Clinton, compared with 30 percent of whites, according to a New York Times-CBS News poll conducted April 30 to May 3.
Mrs. Clinton, who since leaving the White House has been surrounded by a cadre of African-American female aides, has showed comfort and fervor in discussing racism. She still talks about the time in 1962 when her youth minister took her and a childhood friend to see Dr. King speak in Chicago. The experience, she often says, opened her eyes.
In 1972, while working for the Children’s Defense Fund, Mrs. Clinton helped investigate private schools in the South that had been formed to avoid the integration of public schools. She pretended to be a mother enrolling a child at a private school in Alabama, where she was “assured no black students would be enrolled,” she wrote in her memoir “Living History.”
“The environment in which she is in is allowing her to give voice to something she feels deeply about and has felt deeply about for at least the 20 years I’ve known her, and probably 20 years before that,” said Minyon Moore, a Democratic strategist and longtime adviser to Mrs. Clinton.
Black leaders seem to be encouraged by what they have heard so far from Mrs. Clinton. But, given the congressional impasses that Mr. Obama has faced on gun control and other measures, some seem eager to see what she could actually do, if elected.
“The rhetoric is great, and that’s all you can do when you’re not in office, is talk,” Representative James E. Clyburn, a Democrat of South Carolina, has said. “It takes getting elected to get something done.”