Penny Goodman and her father, Ronald Goodman Sr., are at a stalemate.
Two months before the Georgia Democratic primary, but days before the math might determine the party’s candidate, the father and daughter are constantly at odds over who that should be.
Their household battles are part of a larger fight for the Democratic Party’s most prized possession: black voters.
For the daughter, a 36-year-old graduate of liberal Mount Holyoke College, it is Bernie Sanders or bust.
“What he campaigns on is the root of a lot of our problems in this country,” Penny Goodman said. “I stand behind his social agenda.”
For the father, a 76-year-old former Morehouse College professor, who grew up in the civil rights era, his vote is going to Joe Biden, a moderate, closely aligned to the country’s first black president, Barack Obama.
“He has the experience and the knowledge. I feel that I can trust him, and most importantly, I feel that he can win in November. Biden can get us out of the fire,” Ronald Goodman said. “Sanders is talking about giving me the world. The devil told God the same thing. He can’t win. He cannot beat Trump.”
Over dinner, the father calls the daughter idealistic.
The daughter calls the father stubborn.
“If we are not debating politics, it is religion,” Penny Goodman said. “Sometimes, I do get a little upset with him. We have a generational difference. He can’t see the world as I see it, and I don’t see it as he sees it.”
Black voters’ significant role
The Goodmans’ debate, as Biden and Sanders prepare for Georgia’s rescheduled presidential primary on May 19, is key to who wins the heart of the party.
Exit primary polling suggests that in 2008 and 2016, when Obama and Hillary Clinton were the respective nominees, they both lost the cumulative vote of white Democrats but eventually became the party’s choice based on the strength of nonwhites, particularly black voters.
That same kind of support has been key to Biden.
Early on, his campaign was foundering. Then it reached South Carolina, where it scored a key endorsement from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the U.S. House and a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Biden always had the support of African Americans, but his 30-point victory over Sanders in South Carolina — including 61% of the black vote — lifted his campaign to what is now the verge of nomination.
There was an early perception that Sanders, who appeals to a younger voting base, could also appeal to younger black voters.
Conversely, Biden, Obama’s vice president for eight years, would appeal to older black voters.
Biden notched primary victories Tuesday in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, and African Americans helped fuel the wins. A Washington Post exit poll showed he carried black voters in Florida and Illinois by margins of 60 and 38 percentage points, respectively.
But in each state, Sanders won the 18-44 vote across all races.
Age doesn't appear to be as big a factor in Georgia.
A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows Biden doing much better than Sanders across all platforms for black voters. Overall, about 71% of black Georgians polled support Biden over Sanders, who is backed by only 16%.
In terms of beating Trump in November, about 82% of black voters polled believe that Biden has a better chance, against about 8% who think Sanders has the upper hand.
Black voters in Georgia also overwhelmingly believe that Biden would be better atop the ticket for down-ballot Democratic candidates and would do a better job than Sanders in unifying the country.
But all that might be moot before the Georgia primary.
Ten states are set to hold primaries before Georgia, including Connecticut, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Biden’s home state of Delaware.
Biden holds a commanding lead in the all-important delegate count with 1,173 against Sanders’ 881. Nomination requires 1,991 delegates.
On Wednesday, Sanders stopped buying digital ads and told his supporters that he was going to take time to “assess” his 2020 presidential bid.
‘Life-changing’ vs. ‘normalcy’
None of that seems to matter to Sanders’ supporters, who have embraced his policies and ideas of democratic socialism.
In 2016, primary exit polls showed that Sanders won voters under 30 across racial lines. Sanders, who recently skipped a rally aimed at black voters in Mississippi in favor of one in Michigan (he lost both primaries), has mostly shunned race-based analysis in favor of his left-leaning public policy initiatives on health care, college access, criminal justice and labor policy. He says those messages are better received across demographic groups.
“A lot of these voters (who support Biden) are from the civil rights generation,” said Khalid Kamau, a member of the South Fulton City Council and chairman of the Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America. “But they need to listen to their children who are living in their houses still because we all have five to six figures of student loan debt. The outcome of this election, we will have to live with for the next 40 years.”
That younger generation includes Mariah Parker, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia and Athens-Clarke County’s first black county commissioner.
Sanders’ Medicare for All plan appeals to her on a personal level. Her mother, she said, has lupus that keeps her in and out of the hospital.
“I think about those disparities that are so unfair, and I see the need to embrace policies that are fair to all of us,” Parker said. “That when working people come together and stand up for what we deserve, we can change this country. And not only is Bernie saying it, he’s showing how it is done. He is fighting for us.”
Which is why she is fighting for him.
Her weekends are spent manning phone banks and knocking on doors in Georgia with the Athens Area Democratic Socialists of America and in primary states trying to get people to vote for Sanders. Most of that canvassing is in black and low-income neighborhoods.
“A lot of the people I am meeting are undecided and told me that we are the only candidate who has reached out to them,” Parker said. “They care about minimum wage and health care. It makes a huge difference. Medicare for All would be life-changing for them.”
Parker said she has been able to persuade her mother, who lives in North Carolina, to switch from Biden to Sanders. Her father has been tougher to convince.
“He thinks Biden is more electable,” Parker said.
So does Kelly Green.
“For African Americans, Joe represents a comfort level. There is a sense of normalcy with him,” said Green, who is retired and on disability. “Bernie, to me, doesn’t seem like he is willing to compromise. The impression that I get from him is that it is his way or nothing at all.”
But Green first supported Elizabeth Warren, and the 50-year-old isn’t fully giving Biden a pass. Green has seen candidates make promises to black people before without being held accountable, and she is still not convinced he has a specific plan for African Americans.
“I don’t see a black agenda from Biden, and that is a problem for me. But I haven’t seen it from Bernie either,” she said. “I am just more confident that Biden will put one in place.”
On Sunday, at the last Democratic debate, Biden committed to putting a black woman on the Supreme Court. Sanders was noncommittal.
In the Goodman house, the father and daughter are still fighting.
Their debates and deep political conversations started when Penny Goodman was about 10 years old.
“My dad has always been very analytical,” Penny Goodman said. “My father’s generation came out of the civil rights movement. The things that they were protesting against and the changes were considered radical for their parents. But as people age, they become more conservative. Biden’s the more conservative of the two candidates. But to me, he hasn’t shown that he is safer. He hasn’t done anything radical to change anything.”
Ronald Goodman makes a case for Biden’s electability and deliverability. He asks his daughter, who said she might sit out the general election if Biden is the nominee, how Sanders expects to pay for all his plans.
“She is young and idealistic,” Ronald Goodman said. “Most young people following Sanders are idealistic. I was idealistic too at that age, but you have to learn. My being realistic is Biden.”
The Walters: ‘We respect each other’s opinions’
Agnes Scott College junior Loren Walter and her father are in opposite camps when it comes to the Democratic presidential nomination.
Walter, a political science major, initially supported Elizabeth Warren. The 20-year-old switched to Bernie Sanders after Warren bowed out.
Her father is backing Joe Biden.
“I respect her political ideology, but I’m more of a moderate Democrat, and I think, personally, that Bernie is too far left,” said Willie Walter, 51, a Spanish instructor at an elementary school in Chicago.
Loren Walter and her dad debated the choices after watching one debate.
“You can’t vote for him,” Walter said she told her father.
Walter likes Sanders’ positions on universal health care, climate change and his plans to reduce student loan debt.
She and her friends believe Biden is too much status quo.
“They just don’t relate to him,” she said. “He’s very similar to Hillary (Clinton). Returning back to normalcy, appealing to that moderate view.”
Walter cast an absentee ballot for Sanders in the Illinois primary, which he lost decisively earlier this week. Her father voted for Biden.
Her father said they’ve had some good-natured discussions about their political differences.
“I listen to her,” he said. “I can’t change the way she thinks, and she can’t change the way I think. But we respect each other’s opinions.”
— Eric Stirgus
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.