Jesse Jackson not planning to endorse in Democratic primary

Jesse Jackson not planning to endorse in Democratic primary
© Greg Nash

The Rev. Jesse Jackson has no plans to endorse a candidate in the tightening Democratic presidential race.

In an interview with The Hill on Tuesday, the civil rights icon said his long history of working with both Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonScaramucci deleting old tweets to avoid 'distraction' Sunday shows preview: Scaramucci makes TV debut as new communication chief OPINION | Dems need a fresh face for 2020: Try Kamala Harris MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersParliamentarian deals setback to GOP repeal bill OPINION | Hey Dems, Russia won't define 2018, so why not fix your party's problems instead? OPINION | They told us to abandon ObamaCare — then came the resistance MORE means he’ll likely remain neutral until the party’s nominee is named.

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“That’s my present inclination,” he said.

Jackson said he worked alongside Clinton decades ago to fight poverty in the Mississippi Delta and again when she teamed up with Marian Wright Edelman to tackle children’s healthcare issues.

He also highlighted his coordination with Sanders on efforts to regulate Wall Street and noted that Sanders, as mayor of Burlington, Vt., had endorsed Jackson “in the whitest state in the nation” during his failed bids for the White House in the 1980s.

“Bernie endorsed me in ’88, and I won Vermont, at a time that it wasn’t a popular thing to do,” Jackson said. “I know why he’s so appealing.”

Jackson, who now heads the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said he’s focusing instead on efforts to enroll voters in states such as South Carolina, where many eligible African-Americans live but don’t vote.

“In the last election, [GOP Gov.] Nikki Haley won by 60,000 votes, and 200,000 blacks didn’t vote,” he said.

Jackson was quick to emphasize, however, that candidates of all parties should be held to account for the promises they make on the campaign trail. He suggested both parties share the blame for the disparity between whites and blacks when it comes to infant mortality, life expectancy, home foreclosures and other issues. 

“No one has done enough,” he said. “Voting rights is a concern, but the return on our vote is the even bigger issue.”

Jackson’s endorsement would have been a huge benefit, particularly for Sanders. He is working to cut into the Clinton’s lead among black voters, a critical bloc in South Carolina’s Feb. 27 primary.

Clinton, for her part, has a complicated history with Jackson, who passed her over to endorse then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack ObamaJeb Bush calls out Republicans silent on Trump's Russia probe Trump launches all-out assault on Mueller probe Immigration agents planning raids next week targeting teenage gang members MORE (D-Ill.) for president in 2008.

While Jackson’s political star has faded since his heyday, his endorsement would still carry weight.

“He has been in the political trenches for more than 30 years and his ability to energize voters is unprecedented and unrivaled,” Rep. G.K. ButterfieldG.K. ButterfieldDems push back against anti-Pelosi insurgents Dems divided on Trump attack strategy for 2018 Overnight Tech: Black lawmakers press Uber on diversity | Google faces record EU fine | Snap taps new lobbyist | New details on FCC cyberattack MORE (D-N.C.), the head of the Congressional Black Caucus who’s endorsing Clinton, said Tuesday in an email. “There is no doubt that a Jackson endorsement will have a tremendous impact on the election.”

Lorenzo Morris, a political scientist at Howard University, agreed, saying Jackson’s endorsement “would be a net positive for any candidate.”

“Jesse Jackson has as much credibility with the Black Lives Matter movement as any older national black leader,” Morris said Tuesday.

Jackson said he’s spoken with both Clinton and Sanders during the campaign, including a meeting with Sanders at Jackson’s Chicago office in August. At the time, the Vermont senator was refocusing his attention on race-based issues following protests from black activists that shut down several campaign events.

Sanders leads Clinton in New Hampshire, according to polls, and is locked in a tight contest with her in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses there. If he wins both states, it could reshape the Democratic race into a long fight.

This week’s defection of a black South Carolina lawmaker from Clinton’s camp to Sanders’s has raised questions about just how secure the former secretary of State’s advantage might be among black voters in the Palmetto State.

“Hillary Clinton is more a representation of the status quo when I think about politics or about what it means to be a Democrat,” state Rep. Justin Bamberg said Monday during a press call sponsored by the Sanders campaign. “Bernie Sanders on the other hand is bold. He doesn’t think like everyone else. He is not afraid to call things as they are.”

Bamberg is the lawyer representing the family of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed last year by a white police officer — one of a string of similar incidents that have put national attention on issues of race and police brutality.

Complicating the Clinton-Jackson relationship, Bill ClintonBill ClintonOPINION | Dems need a fresh face for 2020: Try Kamala Harris Trump approval rating sets new low in second quarter: Gallup OPINION | How Democrats stole the nation's lower federal courts MORE stirred controversy during the 2008 campaign when he compared an Obama win in South Carolina to Jackson’s victory there in 1988. Those comments that angered many African-Americans, who accused the former president of trying to belittle Obama’s success in the race.

Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat and leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, urged Bill Clinton at the time to “chill a little bit.”

Those tensions grew when Bill Clinton launched accusations that Obama’s team had “played the race card on me,” a defense that also didn’t sit well with prominent black figures. 

“When he was going through his impeachment problems, it was the black community that bellied up to the bar,” Clyburn told The New York Times. “I think black folks feel strongly that this is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation.”