Some key black voices are ready for Hillary Clinton

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Black Democrats are ready for Hillary, another key step in the coalescing around her three years before voters cast  ballots for anyone in the 2016 presidential primaries.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), one of the younger members of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Sunday of Hillary Clinton, “she will win the nomination,” adding, “I think Democrats want to coalesce around a candidate early to kind of put this aside.” Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who initially backed Clinton then opted for Barack Obama in 2008, told the New York Times recently, “If she makes a decision to run, I would be with her.”

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.),  who five years ago pointedly criticized comments former President Clinton made about Obama, told theGrio he would be “very comfortable” with Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee, although he added he felt the same way about Vice President Biden.

None of these remarks are surprising. A number of prominent Democrats of all races are urging Clinton to run. And to be sure, many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as elected officials in states around the country, endorsed Clinton in 2008 only to watch as their constituents overwhelmingly backed Obama, who won the black vote by more than 80 points in some states.

But these embraces of Clinton are not irrelevant, either. By the end of the 2008 primary, longtime African-American activists and political figures were furious at the Clintons, whom they felt had weakened Obama by continuing a campaign long after it was possible for Hillary Clinton to win and continually cast Obama as unelectable in a general election along the way.

The once affectionate references to Bill Clinton as “the first black president’ had been replaced with strong tensions. And black voters had decidedly turned against Hillary Clinton at the polls.

Obama’s black support was due more to enthusiasm about his campaign than concerns about the Clintons, but the racial voting gap was still shocking. In North Carolina, for example, Obama easily defeated Clinton in North Carolina, even though the former first lady won 61 percent of white votes. In the Tar Heel state, where African-Americans were a third of the electorate, Obama received 91 percent of their votes. This pattern played out through the South and was a major factor in Obama defeating Clinton in the Democratic primaries.

These black politicians would not be speaking so positively about Clinton if their constituents were still angry about 2008. And being accepted by black voters is crucial for Clinton if she makes a run in 2016. The easiest and probably only way for her to lose would be for black voters to galvanize around one candidate as they did in 2008.

And one of the ways for Clinton to prevent that is by having black politicians praise her, and connect with African-American audiences. (This year, Clinton has already spoken at the Washington convention of the Deltas  and delivered a speech criticizing voter ID laws, exactly the moves a candidate worried about the black vote would make.)

If Michelle Obama decides to run for president in 2016, none of this will matter, as the current first lady perhaps has even more support among blacks than her husband. That will not happen, of course.

Cory Booker and Deval Patrick, the leading black Democrats in the country, could run in 2016. But the pent-up demand among blacks and even some whites for an African-American president would not exist as it did in 2008. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which Clinton won more black votes than either of those two men in a primary.