Earlier this week, Marcus Ferrell (former African-American outreach director for Bernie Sanders for America 2016, and senior adviser for Swing Left) sent me the following meme:
It was perfect, actually, since in making the Power Rankings this week we caught a few candidates slipping. It seems like in the midst of crowing over new fundraising numbers, prepping for the next debate and watching Trump run from impeachment like Rickon in Game of Thrones, a few candidates forgot there was a primary going on—and African-American voters to court.
These are the dog days of the primary season; everyone is just trying to trudge through the last debates before the holiday season and then get down to business in Iowa. Yet, you can’t wait until Iowa to win black voters; you have to start winning them now and only two candidates have really improved their policies, practices and even polls with black voters this week. The rest? Well, take it from Shug Avery, it pisses off God to walk past the color purple and not notice it, and it pisses off the Black Power Rankings committee when you walk by black voters in a primary season and don’t notice them.
This week’s big riser is *checks notes* Bernie Sanders! The bots won’t know what to do with themselves. This week’s big loser is none other than Mayor Pete, whose great work last week on the courts and civil rights took a backseat this week to other moves. 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: Sen. Bernie Sanders
His daughter-in-law died, he had a heart attack and was back at work on Monday. That’s black AF. If there’s any community that knows what it’s like to go through an unspeakable tragedy and have to pick yourself back up and grind because you can’t afford to miss one day of work (or the campaign trail) it’s black folks, and for this week at least, Bernie is one of us. Sanders used his heart attack as a springboard to talk about his “Medicare for all” plan and was a living example of why it mattered. Even though Bernie is in the financial 1 percent, he knows that millions of Americans go bankrupt from procedures much less dire and expensive than what he and his family suffered through this week. To be fair, Sanders may or may not be “scaling back” his campaign and some committee members feel some kind of way about the fact that his staff basically hid his heart attack for three days, and he’s losing more ground to Warren. However, Sanders is still second with African-American voters in some states and has more money to spend than Diddy at Howard’s homecoming. So for this week, Bernie secures the top spot.
#2: Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Warren jumps up one spot for her new environmental plan that specifically discusses how black folks are often victims of toxic dumping and environmental waste. She’s up to 20 percent with black voters in the latest Quinnipiac poll (pdf) and her approval ratings (if not overall support) with black folks in North Carolina and South Carolina are going up. The “Warren is having trouble with black voters” narrative has slowly floated from former “contender” Pete Buttigieg to her, and we’ll see how she handles it going forward. Also, can we just point out that Warren was definitely fired for being pregnant in 1971. They could fire teachers for having long hair and listening to James Brown back then; you think they didn’t fire women for being pregnant? From 2011 to 2015, black women filed 28 percent of all pregnancy discrimination charges in America despite only being 14 percent of the workforce, so don’t act like Warren is going all “Corn Pop” with her discrimination tales from 40 years ago. The committee believes you on this one, Sen. Warren.
#3: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
There was a real debate about where to rank Julian Castro this week. The committee is focused on what candidates do for African-American voters, but we just couldn’t overlook Castro playing Immigration Moses and walking 12 LGBTQ and disabled asylum seekers from Mexico across the border, challenging Trump’s racist “remain in Mexico” policy. Did the 12 folks get sent back as soon as Castro left? Yes. Will Trump’s policies change? Not yet. But Castro showed that you can do more for immigration than just talk; you can walk it like you talk it, and we stan. Castro also did an incredible Twitter town hall with the amazing April Reign, (of #OscarsSoWhite and all of the things!) and the committee is all about candidates empowering black people in the media with interviews and access when “traditional media” won’t let folks in the door. Castro remains buried in the single digits in most polls, which docks him this week, but we can’t knock his campaign hustle.
#4: Former Vice President Joe Biden
A large contingent of our rotating committee attended HBCUs, partied at HBCUs or currently teach at HBCUs; consequently, we pay special attention to candidates’ policy proposals that deal with the places that gave us our degrees, many of our spouses and most of our debt. So when Joe Biden rolls out a new education plan this week that puts an extra $70 million into HBCUs, we have to give him credit. The average black student in 2016 graduated with $33K in debt. Do you know what you can get for 33K? A (tiny) house, an original Super Mario cartridge (seriously) but most importantly, that kind of debt gets you years of struggle and Biden’s plan addresses it. Not as well as Warren or Bernie, but for this week, it’s a big move. Biden also maintains his lead with black voters across the early state contests, despite mostly botching his question about racial disparities in HIV at the CNN LGBTQA town hall.
#5: Sen. Kamala Harris
Kamala loves the kids, at least this week. She rolled out a new plan to provide six months of maternity leave reimbursement for those making less than $75K a year. The average black income in America is under $40K, so this is basically covering black people—and, in particular, black women—for maternity, which, as we saw with Warren, is when sistas are most vulnerable to being fired. But just about everything else for Harris is bad this week. Is this what it sounds like when a campaign cries? Because after Harris held strong with black families for months, black voters have just left her standing alone in a campaign that’s so (so co-o-ld). The latest Quinnipiac poll shows her in sixth place with black voters, behind Booker and Andrew Yang. On top of that, Dianne Feinstein, the senior senator from California, just endorsed Biden; the fact that she didn’t extend the courtesy to wait until closer to the California primary speaks volumes about what party leadership thinks of Harris’ chances. Harris has to make a big play at next week’s debate to still be considered a contender.
#6: Businessman Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang is like the prosperity minister with that big church downtown. You tell yourself, “Nobody would fall for that crap, right?” and you don’t know anybody who goes to that church. Yet, every Sunday that parking lot is full. You can’t fight the numbers; Andrew Yang is leading Harris, Booker and Castro with black voters (5 percent) in the latest Quinnipiac poll (Even though he’s only third at his own alma mater). He raised $10 million in the third quarter, basically just below Kamala Harris, and the expectation is that he’ll spend that on black outreach and staffers. Black folks seem to have had a moment of clarity about Andrew Yang; while Common Sense is rapping about the benefits of AI for Microsoft, according to a new study by McKinsey and Company this week about 5 million black jobs will be lost to AI, robotics and automation by 2030. We haven’t heard from Common since, but we have heard from Andrew Yang, who is literally the only candidate talking about how AI and automatization will harm black workers in particular. Between California paying athletes and the dangers of automation to black jobs, two of the main policy pushes of the Yang campaign have proven prescient. Black folks are starting to notice.
#7: Sen. Cory Booker
Cory Booker was all over the place this week, which is both good and bad. He congratulated Steven Reed and Timothy Ragland, who were elected the first black mayors of Montgomery, Ala., and Talladega, Ala., respectively. He spoke about a new plan to help former felons transition back to mainstream society. He continued his push for ending child poverty as well. Perhaps most importantly, he highlighted Mental Health Awareness Month. About 30 percent of black adults with mental illness receive treatment each year, compared to 43 percent of all adults. The connection between untreated mental illness and unemployment, incarceration and domestic violence, especially in the black community, is unmistakable, so props to Booker for calling attention to the issue. So why did he drop this week? When a major feature in the Christian Science Monitor about Booker’s presidential courtship says that voters would rather hook up with Biden and Warren but keep Booker in the ESPN Friend Zone, it’s not a good look. Speaking of sports, Booker also drops for showing up at the game at halftime and asking for the ball. This week, he released a comprehensive plan to pay college athletes, expanding on California’s recent laws based on Booker’s own experience as a football player at Stanford. Good Job senator, but why so late to the game? Andrew Yang was talking about this issue a year ago. (Beto and Bernie support the Cali law but have no formal policies on paying athletes) The committee is disappointed that a Stanford grad is copying the homework assignment of a guy from Brown!
#8: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
Beto O’Rourke is at 1 percent with Democratic voters, 1 percent with women, 1 percent with men and 1 percent with black voters. He’s basically binary code for electoral failure. So Beto drops in this week’s rankings, which is a shame because O’Rourke has been all over the country this week speaking out on gun violence, pay equity—which is a major issue for black women—and acknowledging Fannie Lou Hamer’s birthday as well as two recent historically elected black mayors. He even shut down a heckler who was spouting racist talking points about “illegal immigration.” His interview on the Deconstructed podcast was amazing (The committee are all huge fans of Medhi Hasan!) The problem is Beto didn’t do much that specifically targeted black voters this week, so he drops.
#9: Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Pete dropped harder than a new Drake album this week because it seems like he’s going back to the future. When Mayor Pete started his race, he was the gay, centrist, small-town mayor hoping to pick off liberal Biden voters. Then, after the shine on his penny loafers started to fade, he moved left on healthcare and gun rights, and the shooting death of Eric Logan by South Bend police pushed him to focus on his Douglass plan. While Mayor Pete is third or fourth in Iowa, the committee senses that he’s moving back to his initial “working-class/MAGA voter” positions. There wasn’t much on black policy this week, and even worse, when he spoke at the Indianapolis NAACP dinner, he was asked what he would do differently about the Eric Logan shooting and he mentioned having police forces that reflect the community. Really? The number of black police on the force during his time in office dropped by almost 50 percent. There’s also the matter of his less-than-straight answers on firing the city’s first black police chief. It’s almost as if Mayor Pete learned nothing this summer and it was all a ruse because he was worried about expanding in the polls. We’d hate to think that. And yet...that’s the conclusion of the committee, for this week, at least.
#10: Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Klobuchar raised $4.8 million in the third quarter, which in context means it took her three months to raise less than what Cory Booker needed to keep his campaign from being brought home by Jesus. She didn’t impress this week, so she drops, but her new healthcare proposal for families taking care of sick relatives at home hits our committee in the feels and keeps her in the rankings this week. The new Klobuchar plan offers $6,000 in tax credits for those caring for a relative who suffers from Alzheimer’s; given that African Americans are twice as likely as whites to suffer from that disease and we’re more likely to provide care within families than face the costs of paid home care, this is a huge boost.