Hillary Rodham Clinton wooed a key demographic in her election strategy Thursday when she called in to the Rev. Al Sharpton’s nationally syndicated radio show, making an early appeal for black voters to turn out and help defeat Republicans, who she said wanted to “turn back the clock” on civil rights.
The appearance by the Democratic presidential front-runner on Mr. Sharpton’s “Keepin it Real” talk-radio show coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which Mrs. Clinton said was under attack by Republicans who wanted to disenfranchise black voters.
“The best way to repudiate this,” she said, “is for people to turn out and vote. That is the best way to demonstrate that these efforts to turn the clock back will not succeed.”
Mrs. Clinton has courted black voters aggressively as she tries to reassemble the coalition of minority, young people and women who propelled President Obama to two White House victories. She can expect a built-in advantage with all of these groups, but she needs to lock down support from black voters and get them to the polls to secure a win.
The former first lady, senator and secretary of state has moved to drive a wedge between black voters and her chief rival for the nomination, Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent and avowed socialist who is gaining on her in polls.
Mr. Sanders has faced criticism from activists in the Black Lives Matter movement for treating racial disparity as an economic issue. Mrs. Clinton highlighted Mr. Sanders’ disconnect with black voters in an on-camera forum with South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Harrison that was posted online.
“There are some who say, ‘Well racism is a result of economic inequality.’ I don’t believe that,” she said. “They are asking us to face these hard questions, and shame on us if we don’t do just that.”
Mrs. Clinton has redoubled her pursuit of black voters in response to eroding support.
She still has strong support among black voters. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed Mrs. Clinton capturing 66 percent support from black voters, but that was down from 81 percent in the same poll in June.
The defense of the Voting Rights Act has become a battle cry for Democrats after the Supreme Court in 2013 struck down a part of the act that required federal approval for states with histories of discrimination to enact changes to voting laws. The decision prompted several states to adopt voter ID laws, which Democrats, including Mrs. Clinton, blast as modern-day poll taxes.
On Mr. Sharpton’s radio show, Mrs. Clinton said that nearly every Republican presidential candidate supported laws requiring voters to show photo IDs.
“It is so nakedly partisan to try to limit the electorate, to try to pick and choose who among our fellow citizens should be encouraged or discouraged from voting. It is part of their electoral strategy,” she said.
“I can tell you, whoever I sit across from in the debate in the general election, I’ll be raising it because this is such a fundamental constitutional right,” Mrs. Clinton said.
She also pledged to make voting rights a litmus test for her Supreme Court nominees.
“When I’m president, I’ll appoint Supreme Court justices who care more about protecting an individual’s right to vote than a billionaire’s right to buy an election,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Democrats insist that voter ID laws are obstacles to voting for minorities and poor people. Republicans argue that requiring government-issued identification at the polls would prevent voter fraud. However, there is scant evidence that voter ID laws disenfranchise people or that voter fraud is a widespread problem.
Still, Mrs. Clinton routinely raises the voter ID issue when talking to black audiences, along with calling for an end to the country’s mass incarceration of black men, improved police relations with minority communities and restored voting rights for felons.
She hit each of these issues in the radio interview with Mr. Sharpton.
Mrs. Clinton’s strategy relies on her ability to keep black voters energized.
“I expect her to remain strong with minority voters during the primaries, as none of her current opponents has shown much ability to cut into that support,” said longtime Democratic political operative Craig Varoga. “But turnout for her and other Democrats will be more of a challenge, in the primaries and general election, than it was for President Obama in any of his elections.”
Indeed, black voters turned out in record numbers to make up 13 percent of the overall electorate in 2008 and 2012, and Mr. Obama garnered 95 percent of the black vote in 2008 and 93 percent in 2012.
“As Hamlet said of his father, we shall not look upon his like again, at least not in the near future,” Mr. Varoga said.
The Clinton campaign does not expect to match the numbers of the nation’s first black president, but she is counting on strong support from black voters, coupled with overwhelming backing from women, to put her over the top.