Bernie Blows It, Beto Shows It, and Biden Finally Grows a Bit: 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings, Week 4

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images)

This week’s power rankings had a one-week gap because we had a lot of events we wanted to cover to make sure candidates were staying on their toes. We know you missed us. (So did the 2020 Democratic campaigns, who kept asking when the new rankings were coming out. We see you!) Our insiders and judges looked at how 2020 Democrats handled the Netroots Nation conference, the NAACP convention in Detroit and Trump’s most recent racist attacks on Reps. Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (The Black Power Rankings Committee is pretty ambivalent towards the whole “Squad” terminology, but that’s for another time.)

Just about every Democrat showed up at the NAACP convention and none of them really shocked or impressed us with something new or compelling. A few candidates did some behind-the-scenes moves at the Netroots Nation convention, which is a much tougher audience (black folks at the NAACP convention have mastered the polite church clap, no matter how mediocre the candidate). However, we really looked at who came out the box to defend black members of Congress against Trump’s racism last week. Most were found lacking. Those who stood out got props. As usual, our ranking system is below.


How do you rank a campaign’s Black Power? Well, we have our “FLEX” rating, aka:

  • Finances: Are you paying black staff, advertisers, consultants?
  • Legislation: What legislation are you pushing or have passed for black people?
  • External Polling: No matter how good you are for black people, if your poll numbers are terrible we can’t rank you that high!
  • X-Factor: What’s your rhetoric like? How do you handle a crisis or the kinds of events and scandals that directly impact black lives?

This week’s big riser? Mayor Pete Buttigieg moves up three spots to make his first appearance in the top five. This week’s big loser? Beto O’Rourke drops four spots, basically blowing all of the momentum he started last week. We also have our first appearance by New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, who came with some rhetorical fire we weren’t expecting. Without further ado, The Root 2020 Presidential Week 4 Power Rankings!




#1. Sen. Elizabeth Warren


Elizabeth Warren keeps her top spot for the second week in a row because we’ve got eyes and ears everywhere. Her off-the-record Q&A with black women in the movement in Philadelphia during Netroots was highly applauded. Her warning of an impending financial crisis is serious. While she didn’t break any new ground defending the new congresswomen from Trump’s racism, she didn’t screw up either. Finally, she’s gaining on Kamala Harris in California, doubling her numbers in New Hampshire and didn’t even drop a major new policy this week. Impressive.

#2. Sen. Cory Booker


Cory Booker moves up because he came through with criminal justice reform last week, which means he’s getting in on the lucrative campaign business of actually running on policies that help black people. Further, he’s got Republican buy-in, showing that he can actually get GOP involvement in his policies, which is a plus. He was also the only 2020 Democrat candidate to attend Comic-Con, and we think the black nerd vote has untapped 2020 potential. Problem is, Booker’s campaign is running low on cash and if his poll numbers don’t improve soon, he’s going to drop out of our top five.

#3. Sen. Kamala Harris


No one in particular after seeing Harris has dropped to third in our rankings:

“Why do you hate Kamala Harris so much?!”

No, we don’t hate Sen. Harris, but this is her second week dropping in the rankings and she’s got work to do. Her new plan to lower prescription drug costs is fantastic, and her clean water bill she rolled out at the Detroit NAACP convention will definitely help out black folks from Flint, Mich., to Jackson, Miss. The bill she introduced to decriminalize marijuana this week is great but it’s a major flip-flop from Harris the prosecutor. Further, she dropped to third among black voters in South Carolina behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, and her Russia-baiting rubbed some of our committee members the wrong way. Look, we all know Russian bots invaded Twitter during the 2016 election, and I’m pretty sure @ImTotallyBlackNotFromMoscow tweeting that #KamalaIsaCop and #Blexit is a bot, but suggesting that her campaign or Kaepernick’s attacks are mostly amplified by Twitter is a bad look. Not everything is about Russia. We’ve got plenty of racists here.


#4. Mayor Pete Buttigieg


Nothing from nothing leaves nothing...But you can make a little something if you try hard enough. Mayor Pete dropped his detailed “Douglass Plan” right as we released our last poll, so he gets a big bounce for putting together what amounts to a reparations plan in broad political daylight. Further, he finally jumped from negative zero percent black support in the polls to 2 percent, which means he’s still polling below Donald Trump, ashy ankles and soggy greens among black people, but that’s an improvement for him.

#5. Former Vice President Joe Biden


Shout out to VP Joe Biden for actually putting in work this week and moving up one spot. Uncle Joe is the only campaign to have an endorsement from a black elected official in New Hampshire. He maintains a huge lead with black voters in South Carolina. He also just dropped his criminal justice policy, which is a much-delayed makeup call for the 1994 crime bill but we’ll give him an “E” for effort. And as a side note, to all other campaigns: Biden’s failure to apologize for past sins is worth digging into, but anybody who thinks a Democratic white man’s opinions on race in the 1970s is indicative of where he is in 2020 is grasping at straws.

#6. Sen. Bernie Sanders


Bernie was killing it the past two weeks. He made great black staff moves in South Carolina, and we’d heard good things about some of his private meetings with activists on the ground. He was supposed to jump into the top three—then he went full Bernie. While Sanders has been a longtime supporter of Rep. Omar against racist attacks, using Trump’s attacks on #TheSquad to raise money was tacky, especially given his campaign is being sued for racial discrimination and his own problematic comments about racist white voters. There is a very thin line between support during a tragedy and exploiting one. Bernie stepped over it.


#7. Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro


Julian Castro didn’t do much this week for black voters on the policy side, but his defense of Reps. Omar, Pressley, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez was impressive. As perhaps the only presidential contender (no shade to Andrew Yang) who’s been personally told to “go back to where he came from,” he gave perhaps the most impassioned defense of these women as any 2020 candidate. His full interview on Democracy Now is worth watching.

Rank 8

#8. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke


Beto is bleeding after two weeks of relatively bad news, so he drops three spots. First, informing the world that your family owned slaves is about as radical as apologizing to black voters because you used the N-word once during a pickup basketball game in 1983 after a hard foul. We aren’t surprised and aren’t impressed. Second, his campaign is running low on cash, which means he may not even have enough cash on hand to pay reparations to all of those slaves his family used to own.

#9. “Spiritual Guru” Marianne Williamson


We can’t believe this but Marianne Williamson is moving on up. The viral video of her telling white people to apologize to black folks for slavery during her 2018 “Love America” tour solidifies her as black America’s official white sister-in-law who insists the family collectively watch Roots every Thanksgiving. Further, she’s actually at 1.5 percent in New Hampshire ahead of Cory Booker and Kristen Gillibrand. Oh, and she clapped back at Samantha Bee (who we love!) but a clapback is still worth some points.

#10. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand


Three big moments for Sen. Gillibrand, who makes our top 10 for the first time: First, she gave a fantastic answer for what “white privilege” really means to a skeptical voter from Ohio and she gets some FLEX credit for that. Second, as the junior senator from New York, she came right out and called the Justice Department’s failure to prosecute the cop who killed Eric Garner for the garbage that it is. It’s about time New York state politicians showed some backbone. Lastly, we at The Root appreciate her not backing down from her position that Al Franken needed to leave the Senate after several accusations of sexual misconduct. Many white female politicians would be shedding white tears at this point, portraying themselves as victims of the big bad media. Gillibrand has had “I said what I SAID” tattooed on her chest this whole time. To quote Marianne Williamson, “Good job, girlfriend!”

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