Supporters at a Hillary Clinton rally in South Los Angeles. (Bill Boyarsky / Truthdig)

The mall on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is in the heart of Los Angeles’ African-American community. Its most influential leaders were at a rally there on Saturday to stir up support for Hillary Clinton in the June 7 California presidential primary. But their task extended far beyond Los Angeles, to the suburbs east of the city, now home to thousands of black families. “We have to go to San Bernardino, to Riverside, to Perris,” Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters told the several dozen men and women in front of the Clinton campaign’s South Los Angeles headquarters. The communities she mentioned are part of the vast area known as the Inland Empire. “Many folks have moved out,” she said. “They’re not connected. We’re going to connect them.” Motivating turnout for Clinton to defeat Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primary is the challenge Waters faces. At 76, she is on the campaign trail, where she has been since the mid-’70s when she was elected to the California State Assembly. She has represented her South L.A. district in the House since 1991. In that long tenure, she has become Los Angeles’ most influential African-American political leader with a network of allies that extends throughout the state and nation. Before she spoke, we chatted in a big room usually occupied by phone bankers in the evenings. “I believe she (Clinton) will win California,” Waters said. “She will be the nominee. It is very clear that Hillary is the preferred candidate of the African-American community in the country. She will get the majority of votes in South L.A. and in Perris.” An influential white congressman agreed. Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff is a Jewish lawmaker who represents a district north of South L.A. I talked to him a couple of days after the rally. Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, told me, “I think the California primary will be a close race. I think she will prevail, but we’re not sure who will turn out to vote. It will be very close and hard-fought. She’s put together a very broad coalition.” Looking to the fall, he added, “I think Donald Trump is a bit of a wrecking ball, alienating a lot of voters. I don’t underestimate Trump, but I don’t think he will wear well. He is unfit for the highest office, and nominating him is the single most irresponsible act in the history of that party.” Black voters across the country have favored Clinton, helping power her to a lead in delegates. They are important in November as well as in the primaries. Cook Political Report analysts Amy Walter and David Wasserman wrote last summer: “The key to 2016 may be whether Hillary Clinton and Democrats can motivate African-Americans to turn out in just as big numbers without Barack Obama on the ballot. According to exit polls, African-Americans were just 10 percent of the electorate in 2000 and 11 percent in 2004, but rose to 13 percent in 2008 and stayed there in 2012. In fact, in 2012, (the percentage of) African-American turnout exceeded white turnout by two points.” While African-Americans constitute slightly less than 6 percent of California’s population, they can be, as Walter and Wasserman found, high-turnout voters. Latinos are 39 percent, whites are 38.9 percent, and Asian Americans are 13 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Phone banks, social media and door knocking, all guided by data the Clinton national staff has assembled, guide the effort. Waters’ daughter, Karen, is one of the leaders in Los Angeles. At stake are 548 delegates to the presidential nominating convention to be held in Philadelphia in July, with 475 of them chosen according to the June 7 vote. The rest are unpledged superdelegates. Most of the superdelegates—elected officials and various other party powers—favor Clinton, the authoritative Green Papers website reports. The RealClearPolitics average of polls has Clinton ahead in California by eight points. But the individual polls that make up the average are all over the place, and their meaning is unclear. Even if Sanders edges Clinton out in the California primary, the complex way the delegates are divided up in the electoral process will give Clinton a substantial number of delegates. Those delegates plus more from other primaries that day should give her the nomination.
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