Flint, MI — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders turned his attention to Flint on Saturday night in an attempt to win over African American voters, who polls show siding with the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden in Michigan.

Last week, African American voters delivered an overwhelming victory to Biden in South Carolina, giving his presidential campaign a needed boost that led to other presidential candidates like U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropping out of the race and endorsing Biden.

Sanders’ campaign announced the visit to Flint as a town hall on racial and economic justice and said the senator would “directly address the African-American community and make the case for why black voters should support him over Joe Biden.”

But when the event began, Sanders launched into his standard stump speech before listening to remarks from a group of panelists.

Attendees in the mostly white audience were not given an opportunity to ask Sanders questions; instead, each panelist asked the senator a question after sharing their stories.

Sanders’ campaign said the decision to scrap the remarks was made after talking to the panelists backstage because Sanders, as a white man, has not had the experiences the people of color on the panel have.

Sanders did make one attempt to contrast himself with Biden on race, citing a headline in the Detroit News during a question he addressed to Harvard professor and progressive activist Cornel West, one of the panelists at the event.

“There was a headline in today’s Detroit News,” Sanders said. “And the headline said, ‘Biden sees advantage with Michigan black voters.’”

Sanders proceeded to list a number of issues facing black Americans – a higher poverty rate, lower life expectancies, a higher rate of uninsured people and lower pay rates – and asked West whether “given the reality of the condition of the African-American community right now supporting a status quo, same old, same old type of politician is going to address these issues?”

West described Biden as “the neoliberalist who all of a sudden now is coming back to life.”

“And the catalyst was my own black people,” West added. “Oh, I’m so disappointed. Oh, I’m so upset.”

West argued that while Biden may make promises that sound appealing to voters, Sanders is the candidate who voters should trust to truly care about the issues.

“If you’re a neoliberal centrist, you can lip sync fairly well some of the progressive themes every four years,” West said. “But like Milli Vanilli, we want the real thing. Bernie Sanders is the real thing.”

The panel discussion was Sanders’ first campaign stop in Flint during the 2020 election cycle, though he did send actor Danny Glover and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner to visit homes in the city in July.

Biden has not yet visited the city during this election cycle.

Michigan voters will cast their ballots in the Democratic primary on March 10.

Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a freelance reporter covering politics and policy in Michigan. Andrew is a journalism student at Michigan State University and first started covering politics during the 2016 presidential...