U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota laughs as the Rev. Al Sharpton tells the crowd at Paschal’s Restaurant that she once raised $17,000 from her ex-boyfriends. In all, five of the candidates who participated in Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate attended Thursday’s gathering put on by Sharpton’s National Action Network. Candidates made stops across the city on Thursday, many of them aiming to appeal to black voters. PHOTO BY ELISSA BENZIE
Photo: Elissa Benzie
Photo: Elissa Benzie

Democratic candidates take an extra day in Atlanta to woo black voters

Even with the debate in the rear-view mirror, many Democratic candidates for president stayed in Atlanta to get in one more day of campaign events aimed directly at black voters.

In a crowded banquet room at Paschal’s Restaurant, the Rev. Al Sharpton and clergy members from his National Action Network held court Thursday with five presidential candidates who took turns behind the lectern promising to embrace civil rights as a central cause.

Later in the day, four candidates joined Stacey Abrams at Ebenezer Baptist Church to contact some of the people whose voter registrations could be canceled in Georgia.

Photos: Presidential candidates make their pitch in Atlanta

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U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris attended a breakfast for black women. And U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren each hosted major events at the Atlanta University Center.

“I wanted to stick around after last night’s debate because this city has been at the heart of America’s fight for justice,” Warren told a capacity crowd at Clark Atlanta University’s Epps Gymnasium. “Atlanta is a city that honors fighters.”

Warren’s event, the last of the day, focused on honoring black activists, including the participants in the Atlanta Laundry Workers’ Strike of 1881.

Other campaigns struck out early Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend., Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar all attended Sharpton’s breakfast event. Each of them emphasized parts of his or her campaign agenda aimed at mobilizing black voters, the most dominant bloc of the Democratic electorate in Georgia and the South.

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Steyer brought up his promise to launch a formal commission to reframe the issue of slavery and “retell the story so we understand what happened, so we understand how we got to where we are.”

Yang tied his “freedom dividend” proposal for a guaranteed minimum income to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and agenda.

“This man died fighting for economic justice,” he said of King. “And that goal hasn’t been met.”

Around this same time, Harris was being celebrated at the Black Women for Kamala breakfast at the downtown Westin. U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, warmed up the crowd by talking about why she has decided to endorse the U.S. senator from California.

“She is smart, she knows government,” Fudge said. “She is tough. She can stand toe to toe with Donald Trump.”

Harris took the stage and answered questions from a moderator about what she is doing to improve her standing in the polls, including among African American voters. Harris said she has to combat skepticism from voters who aren’t sure whether she would be able to beat Trump in 2020.

“This is not a new conversation for me,” Harris said. “This is the conversation I have heard in every campaign I have had and — hear the operative word — won.”

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Photos: Democratic presidential candidates debate in Atlanta

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Abrams’ event wasn’t about campaigning but helping to prevent voters from being improperly purged from Georgia’s rolls. Booker, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Yang joined her and other volunteers in sending text messages to some of the 313,000 people whose voter registrations could be canceled in Georgia.

Using a computer program to send dozens of text messages at a time, the candidates raced to reach as many voters on the list as they could. When voters responded, the candidates interacted with them, looked up their registration information and told them how to re-register before it’s too late.

Abrams and her Fair Fight Action voting rights group held the event at the church where King was pastor.

“This is an assault on our democracy. This is what generations past have fought for,” Booker said. “The struggles of our past, the ground that was gained, a lot of that is being eroded right now. That’s unacceptable.”

There are symbols of King across Atlanta, including on the campus of Morehouse College, his alma mater. A larger than life statue there was the setting for Sanders’ campaign rally.

The senator from Vermont connected the anti-Semitism that led to his relatives’ slaughter in the Holocaust to the systemic racism facing African Americans. He invoked King’s legacy as he told a diverse crowd of hundreds how his Polish ancestors died under Nazi oppression in the 1940s.

“We will do everything humanly possible to end all forms of discrimination in this country,” he said, later praising King’s grasp of an important ideal. “Real change never takes place from the top down, but from the bottom up.”

The final public event of the day was Warren’s campaign rally at Clark Atlanta. It began as planned with a tribute to slain student Alexis Crawford, a choir singing the national anthem and the black national anthem, and a spirited introduction from U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who hails from Massachusetts like Warren and has endorsed her.

But once the candidate began to speak, she was interrupted by a protest coordinated by the Powerful Parent Network, a group of African American school choice advocates.

“We want to be heard,” the protesters chanted.

“Let her speak,” Warren supporters shouted back.

The protest was only quelled after Pressley came back on stage and spoke directly to the protesters, asking them to not silence the stories Warren had hoped to share about black activists from history.

Eventually, Warren was able to get her speech back on track.

Mentioning Abrams, King and the plight of domestic workers, she delivered an at-times fiery speech that tapped into the city’s rich history of civil rights, while promoting what will prove to be a key demographic — black women.

“I’m not here to tell you about a painful history that black Americans experienced and know all too well. I am here today for a different reason,” Warren said. “I’m here to make a commitment: When I am president of the United States, the lessons of black history will not be lost. Those lessons will live in every part of my presidency — and I will ask you to hold me accountable for that promise every single day.”

Staff writers Mark Niesse and Ernie Suggs contributed to this article.

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