Kamala Harris campaign focuses on black colleges for support

ORANGEBURG, South Carolina - California Sen. Kamala Harris has described her experience as a student at a historically black college as “one of the most important aspects” of her life. Now, her Democratic presidential campaign is using that experience to connect with voters.

Not only is she one of only two black candidates in a field that’s expected to grow to more than 20 candidates, she’s also the only candidate who attended a historically black college or university, commonly called an HBCU. And she’s the first major-party candidate to have graduated from an HBCU - Washington’s Howard University - since Jesse Jackson ran for president in the 1980s.

She is not the only candidate focusing on such institutions. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke have campaigned at historically black colleges. So has the other black candidate in the 2020 race, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

At a town hall last month in Orangeburg, home to two of South Carolina’s HBCUs, Booker noted that his parents and grandparents were educated at historically black institutions and that “the majority of black doctors, black lawyers, black generals are produced by HBCUs.”

But Harris’s campaign has visited more historically black colleges than any candidate, and she is burnishing her personal ties to this community, and not just to current students.

“Presidential candidates are recognizing HBCUs as a political and cultural center for the broader black community,” said Aimee Allison, founder of the political network She The People, which plans a candidate forum Wednesday at Texas Southern University, a historically black college. Allison said that holding events at these schools is an “essential part of a long-term strategy to build trust and relationships” with black voters.

Harris’s focus on historically black colleges could be particularly important in South Carolina, home to eight HBCUs. Black voters are vital to success for Democratic primary candidates anxious to win the South’s first primary.

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