Politics

Black Lives Matter Activist Struggles To Gain Traction In Baltimore Race

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Barack Obama speaks to the media at a meeting with civil rights leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. From left are the president Rep, John Lewis, D-Ga., Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Al Sharpton, Founder and President of the National Action Network, Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and in the blue vest is Deray McKesson, Co-Founder of We the Protestors and Campaign Zero.

A new Baltimore Sun poll of likely voters in the city’s upcoming Democratic mayoral primary shows 30-year-old Black Lives Matter activist Deray Mckesson with less than one percent support, way behind leading candidates Democratic State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (26 percent support) and former Mayor Sheila Dixon (24 percent).

That’s surprising news for users of Twitter, a platform where Mckesson has more than 300,000 followers and is one of the 10 people followed by Beyonce. And his popularity isn’t limited to the internet. Last month Mckesson met with President Obama. Afterwards, the president praised Mckesson, saying he’s done “outstanding work mobilizing in Baltimore” around issues connected with police violence that roiled the city in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of officers. Mckesson’s online fundraising is being handled by Revolution Messaging, a firm that’s also working on behalf of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

But his platform and prominent advocates haven’t yet amounted to significant support for Mckesson in Baltimore, where 13 candidates are competing in the April 26 primary. Part of this is due to the fact Mckesson’s Twitter followers and Baltimore primary voters are two different sets of people. But Steve Raabe, president of the Annapolis-based firm that conducted the poll, told the Sun lack of familiarity is also playing a role.

“Mckesson is completely unknown to voters,” Raabe said. “They want somebody who understands Baltimore, has paid their dues and been around. That’s not to say he can’t introduce himself, but right now, he’s a complete unknown.”

Mckesson’s campaign didn’t respond to an email, but as news of the poll circulated, Mckesson retweeted posts expressing both frustration and optimism:

In a new New Yorker profile of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mckesson anwers a question about how he thinks he’d be able to get members of the city council and the state legislature to support his ideas by downplaying the perceived disadvantage of being an outsider.

“That question seems to come from a place of traditional reading of politics,” Mckesson said. “That says, ‘If you don’t know people already, then you cannot be successful.’ Politics as usual actually hasn’t turned into a change in outcomes here.”

While things don’t look great for Mckesson’s campaign right now, there are still many weeks before April 26, and Raabe notes that the race could still take unpredictable turns — especially if Revolution is able to recreate the success its had working on behalf of Sanders.

“The race is still fluid,” Raabe told the Sun. “You have two strong leaders, but you can see the impact of TV advertising in a race like this. There’s still time for a candidate who is well funded to make a move, and there’s still room for a front-runner to make a mistake that costs them.”