During a week where there is a Democratic debate the Power Rankings usually focus on who performed best, and how much time candidates spent speaking to issues and policies that concern African-American voters, but not this week. This whole committee was hit hard by the news that Rep. Elijah Cummings died early Thursday morning, and it put all of our rankings into a new light. In addition to being Politics Editor for The Root.com, I’m also faculty at Morgan State University, a school that sits in Cummings’ district, and he was always a huge advocate for our students. Fellow rankings judge Marcus Ferrell (former African American Outreach Director for Bernie for America 2016 and Senior Advisor Swing Left) texted that Cummings had been a mentor to so many young black politicos and activists all over the country.
Cummings died fighting to preserve a democracy that has never quite served black folks but nonetheless has the potential to be great. His legacy is a reminder to the Black Power Rankings committee that we can never ask too much of the candidates running for president. There is no ask so outrageous, no demand too petty and no policy so outlandish that we as African Americans can’t place it at the feet of those who seek our votes and expect action from them. If Elijah Cummings could show as much compassion for local Maryland issues (He once served on the Coast Guard and Maritime Sub-Committee so that he could make sure the Chesapeake Bay was clean and to protect black fisherman) as he did for national immigration issues at the border and impeaching Donald Trump as Chair of the House Oversight Committee, we should never shy away from demanding the most of presidential candidates who can’t win a thing without the black vote.
We know he’s up there “Dancing with Angels” as he used to say, and we’ll do our best to hold future leaders to his standard as long as we’re still here. With that, on to this week’s rankings.
For the first time in the history of the rankings, we have a TIE! Yes, Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Cory Booker are both the Biggest Risers for the week, jumping 3 spots after great debate performances and actually acting like they still have a chance at this nomination. This week’s biggest loser is actually Bernie Sanders, who drops four spots, but he’s still riding a post-heart-attack high. Senator Klobuchar falls off the list this week and Tom Steyer literally bought his way back into the Top 10. Want to know how we do our rankings? Check out our system 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?
#1: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
“Police Violence is also gun violence”—Julian Castro Oct. 15, 2019. Democratic Debate
Honestly, Castro could’ve just dropped the mic and left the stage after that, but he went on to explain how gun violence, police confiscation of weapons and the murder of Atatiana Jefferson by another lawless cop are connected policy-wise. In a debate where most candidates couldn’t find a way to mention black people or issues, Castro kept his eyes on the prize. This week, he also rolled out an endorsement list bigger than a Wu-Tang Clan family photo, which included black, queer Muslim activist Blair Imani, Executive from the Delaware Democratic Party Coby Owens, Angela Lang of BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing for Communities) and a slew of others. His campaign manager Maya Rupert hit us with the specific ways that Castro’s new Foster Care policy helps black families and keeps the system from tearing families apart, and most importantly, whenever that 3-hour snoozefest of a debate veered into talking head minutia, Castro kept it 100 and pivoted back to real issues. The Committee recognizes Castro’s poll numbers are flatter than pancakes stacked on two ironing boards on Kyrie Irving’s version of the Earth but his policies, his debate, and his staff went HAM this week so he comes out on top.
#2: Sen. Kamala Harris
During the debate, a Kamala Harris staffer complained to Buzzfeed about how white women reporters praise Elizabeth Warren for being snide to Harris but jump all over Harris when she does anything remotely assertive towards a white male candidate. Not only does the Committee agree with Harris’ staffer but much respect to her staff in general, who know how to work the press behind the scenes, compared to Bernie staffers, who seem to think he’s running for president of Twitter. Harris had a great debate, and was one of the few candidates to talk specifically about black women’s maternal health issues, and connected Trump’s tweets to violence against black people.
While Warren may think it was cute to dismiss Harris’ idea to boot Trump off Twitter, it was just a few months ago the President was calling the black residents of Baltimore vermin because he was angry at Elijah Cummings, and all but calling for assassination attempts on Rep. Ilhan Omar. Plus, Harris finally has her black knight in shining neck-chains, aka Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, who will be accompanying her to black town halls in South Carolina this week. It was one thing to get the former 2 Live Crew rapper’s endorsement, it is a huge coup to actually have him campaign with her.
Lastly, shout out to one of our Greek committee members who informed us that whenever Harris says “This is a SERIOUS matter” during the debates that it’s a shout out to AKA. I’m #MePhiMe so I didn’t have a clue. The committee is always happy to give Greeks love, and we’re still offering free tickets to the Root 100 gala and a year’s supply of D.C.’s Mumbo sauce for anybody who has an old dusty VHS tape of Harris at a Howard step show or even her Rollout.
#3: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Well, Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything but she was catching hands from Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, and I think Marianne Williamson got in a shot from the spiritual plane. Joe Biden was so aggressive with Warren, Kamala’s husband Doug Emhoff thought he was gonna have to rush the stage again.
Heavy is the crown of the front-runner and the committee thinks Warren stumbled a bit. Outside of mentioning HBCUs Warren didn’t say much for black voters during the debate and she would have dropped further but her polling numbers went up post-debate; she’s jumped over Sanders as the second choice of black voters in a recent poll; she co-sponsored addiction support legislation with the late Elijah Cummings and she called out HUD Secretary Ben Carson for finding yet another way to discriminate against people. The Committee will be interested to see if Warren the Front Runner can keep the same energy as Warren the Insurgent.
#4: Sen. Cory Booker
Did you feel that? That’s a thug tear rolling down your cheek after Cory Booker’s closing statement at this week’s Democratic debate. Cory Booker did something that nobody on the committee thought was possible: He made the case for staying in the race despite the fact that he’s got little chance to win the nomination. The passion, moral clarity, and arguments that Booker made, especially about men fighting for women’s reproductive rights (They’re PEOPLE—Imagine THAT?!) and child poverty (and trust, those are black issues) moved him up this week.
Even if he never wins this nomination, Booker SOUNDS more like a president than anybody on that stage, so he moves up. Booker played nice with most everyone, which was either a play for VP (He’s more likely to be Warren’s VP than Andrew Gillum, trust us) or just Cory being Cory. His explanation for his low polling with black voters on NPR’s Off Script wasn’t particularly impressive, and the fact that he tried to straddle the fence on who was better, Tupac or Biggie offended some of our more music-minded committee members (also, where’s the love for Redman, Lauryn Hill and Fetty Wap? No love for Jersey rappers, Senator?)
#5: Sen. Bernie Sanders
The 2020 healthcare debate for Democrats is basically an argument about which version of the Medicare for All bill they’re not going to be able to pass once elected, so the committee gives Bernie Sanders credit for that. So why the drop? First, Sanders is now the third choice of black voters behind Warren and Biden in a recent poll.
Next, Bernie did some good talking with Rashad Robinson on the Voting While Black Podcast discussing specific issues that address the black community, but where was that on the national debate stage? Say our name say our naaaaame, Bernie if you want the black vote, don’t get onstage then choke, why you running gaaaame? Next, while he scored endorsements from some of “The Squad” this week, the committee remains unimpressed. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were supported by Justice Democrats (a PAC founded by former Sanders staffers) so their endorsement is no surprise (and we expect Rashida Tlaib to join them soon). No shade to the rest of the group, but Sanders basically got a shout-out from Michelle and Kelly, but as far as the committee is concerned Ayanna Pressley is the Squad’s Beyonce and she made it very clear she is NOT endorsing Sanders.
Maybe it’s because she’s from the same state as Elizabeth Warren, maybe it’s Maybelline, we don’t know, but a high profile black woman with impeccable progressive credentials taking Sanders’ money and still giving him the Heisman says something about where Dems see his chances of winning the nomination.
#6: Former Vice President Joe Biden
Hunter Biden is about to win the Tariq St. Patrick Award for the Son Most Likely to Cost His Daddy the Bag. Hunter is a grown-ass man, and the fact that his LinkedIn is constantly popping with requests from foreign companies should have nothing to do with his father. Yet, Uncle Joe, Corn-Pop Joe, the man who said he’d take Trump behind the high school gym and beat the hell out of him, had nothing but weak sauce with a side of mumble when it came to defending Hunter and responding to Trump’s ridiculous Ukraine smears during the debate.
Worse, Biden trying to take credit for Warren’s work to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was out of bounds even for him. He was a step away from calling her sweetheart and rubbing her shoulders. Given that Ohio was the scene of Biden’s most infamous line-stepping with women maybe he was having a flashback. Biden also drops because he said little or nothing specific for black voters during the debate, blowing yet another chance to distance himself from the rest of the field.
#7: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
Beto did a decent job this week keeping the focus on Trump’s corrosive racism, praising the life of Elijah Cummings and putting together his #RallyAgainstFear which featured a rap group so bad Beto should’ve said “Hell yes, we’re coming for your mics.” Since the never-Trumper media elites love Mayor Pete, they totally misread the tense exchange between him and Beto during the debate so allow the Committee to clarify:
Pete Buttigieg: I don’t need to take lessons from you on courage, or politics, or mouthwash or hip-hop or anything. I hate you Beto, I hate you with all my heart….
Beto O’Rourke: Uhmm Pete, this is an Arby’s…
While Mayor Pete played the little Engine That Wants That Smoke, Beto was Lightning McQueen; he’s not ashamed of his far-left stances on guns and was happy to stay in his lane. The Committee also credits Beto for dusting off what’s left of Bill O’Reilly just so he could smack him down a flight of stairs again. Beto’s polls are still terrible, but he moves up one for debate clutchness this week.
#8: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Angry Pete, Pistol Pete, Pete with Priors, Butti-Snatch-Edges, Mayor Pete from South Bend, South-South Bend … Look whatever name you want to give him, Mayor Pete has decided that his best strategy going forward is to pick fights with errrbody on stage. When you get clapped back from Harris, Beto, and even Cory Booker, it’s time to evaluate your life choices.
While some press outlets loved the new Pete, he didn’t do much for black voters on the main stage. You’ve got this supposedly amazing Douglass Plan that’s supposed to be a game-changer for black folks, but you don’t mention it once during the debate? You can’t change the game if you leave Jordan on the bench in the 4th quarter.
To make matters worse, given Mayor Pete’s own history with cops killing unarmed black men on his watch, hanging out with anybody associated with the Laquan McDonald cover-up isn’t a good look, or it’s a serious dog whistle.
Pete is lucky he only drops one spot this week - His saving grace is that he’s started to make moves in South Carolina, appearing at more town halls and holding fish fries at HBCUs to connect with students. The committee is feeling nice, so we’ll consider this a move to connect with black voters and not blatant disregard for our high cholesterol levels. But honestly, we see you, Mayor Pete, and it doesn’t look good.
#9: Businessman Andrew Yang
You know, not one check has been mailed to anybody for being part of #BlackTwitter. All those Thanksgiving clapbacks and #OscarsSoWhites are making Twitter, Instagram and Facebook billions while the black folks producing the content get nothing, which is why Yang gets some credit this week. He’s the only person in the debate that pointed out “data” (which social media sites snatch from you) is now valuable more than oil, and not one of you is getting paid for it.
If there’s one group of people in America who should be wary of producing work that we don’t get paid for, it’s black folk. Catch is, Yang didn’t make that connection, and he drops because outside of tech, the committee didn’t see much that he did for black voters this week. Plus, how are you going to rail against companies using consumers’ private information when that’s how you fundraise?
#10: Businessman Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer didn’t do much to impress during the debate but we have to give him at least some credit for a tremendous hustle in even getting on stage. Steyer has spent about $42 million of his own money, running ads in small states to push up his national averages so that he could get in the debate mix. What’d that get him? About seven minutes of airtime. Now, the committee is not in the habit of counting other people’s coins, but when you spend roughly 6 million dollars per minute on the air, you’d get a better return on investment running ads during the Super Bowl than you’re getting running for president. He slips back onto the rankings this week in part because back when Steyer was just a billionaire trying to get Trump impeached he held town halls in Cummings’ Maryland District to thank him for calling for Trump’s impeachment and to give the Congressmen support going forward. At least that was an investment we could all get behind.