RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg headlined a Democratic event in Virginia Saturday night, hoping to win the state come Super Tuesday despite his history with controversial actions and statements on race.
“If we want to beat Donald Trump in 2020, we absolutely must win this Commonwealth,” said Bloomberg to the loudest applause of the night; a request for support to campaign for him after the Trump threat required a “yes, you can applaud for that.”
He also mentioned Richmond’s history as a slave trading town, calling it among the state’s darkest past where “thousands of slaves were bought and sold and separated from their loved ones.”
“That history is one of the reasons America felt so much pain when President Trump said ‘very fine people’ of the Nazis and Klansmen who marched to Charlottesville,” he said, channeling the August 2017 Unite the Right rally that left one woman dead. “But as painful as that moment was, it was galvanizing because Virginia, and across the country, Americans said we cannot accept that.”
The crowd, again, remained tepid.
Roars returned when he mentioned the success of the Democratic Party in turning the state’s Legislature blue for the first time in 20 years – something he helped with his influx of cash - but it once again got mum when he addressed one of the elephants in the room: stop-and-frisk.
“There is one practice I deeply regret,” he said, after discussing his success in reducing gun violence in New York City, of the controversial practice which targeted people of color for aggressive searches with staggeringly low prosecution rates. “I defended it too long cause I didn’t understand the pain it caused to black and brown kids and their families.”
“For that I apologize,” he added. “I can’t change history, but I can learn lessons and use that to change.“
While Virginia hasn’t had a specific program like stop-and-frisk, the state’s history of racism is still a fresh wound, and as former Vice President Joe Biden has faded in popularity, his long-time link with the black community appears to be waning. According to polling, black Democrats are looking at Bloomberg as an alternative.
A Feb. 10 Quinnipiac University national poll put the billionaire businessman’s support within the black community around 22%, second only to Biden’s 27%.
And a Florida poll put Bloomberg even higher with black voters at 28%, even beating Biden in the state by almost 2 points. Sanders came in fifth.
While black voters make up only a portion of primary voters, they are still key in southern states where they can make up large portions of primary voters.
But what puzzles activists is where black support for Bloomberg is coming from.
In the last few weeks, video and audio has surfaced showing the former New York mayor touting the success of his stop-and-frisk program, as recently as 2015.
He also claimed Congress’s rollback of redlining, the practice of denying bank loans to people of color, literally outlining their neighborhoods in red to show the danger of lending to them, helped cause the 2008 economic downturn.