In the immortal words of Bill Duke in Menace II Society:
That’s about the only way we can describe most of the Democratic candidates in the Black Power Rankings for week 10. It’s as if half the candidates forgot that there are black people out here who they need to campaign for, because some of the rhetorical and tactical mistakes that came from candidates this week made the committee wonder if any of these folks want to actually win. Now, this isn’t to say that there weren’t some bright spots; a few candidates remembered that no Democrat has ever won the party nomination, let alone the presidency, without consistent enthusiastic black support; but trust me, some of them desperately needed a reminder this week.
Also worth noting: Not every candidate for president is going to have the most money, the best commercials or even the snazziest campaign slogan (Sorry, Sen. Klobuchar but “Let’s Get to Work” sounds like the chant of a 1920s chain gang more than a campaign slogan), but you know what’s always free? Hustle. When campaigns fare as badly as they did this week, the committee pays special attention to who’s out in the black community hustling and who’s thinking that name recognition and tweets are doing the work for them.
This week’s big riser? Sen. Cory Booker, who kept grinding along while other folks fell all over themselves. This week’s biggest loser? Former Vice President Joe Biden, who we believe might be allergic to winning at this point. This week’s rankings also have a new debut with Bruce Wayne-level billionaire Tom Steyer. Wondering how me (Dr. Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root), fellow Judge Marcus Ferrell (former African American outreach director for Bernie Sanders 2016) and our rotating committee do our rankings each week? Check out our rubric 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.
While the press was going gaga over Elizabeth Warren’s four-hour selfie-marathon in New York City this week, not enough attention was paid to the fact that she spent half her New York speech talking about ending the black-white wage gap. Maybe that’s why she snatched Bernie Sanders’ chain this week and won the Working Family Party’s endorsement on some pure hustle. (WFP is the closest thing in America to a working-class black party).
Yes, Warren is beating Bernie and catching up to Biden in the polls, but the committee is more impressed that she’s moved up to 13 percent among black voters. Apparently just being around Warren is good for black people because her director of surrogates and strategic communications Camonghne Felix made the longlist for a National Book Award in poetry while running a national campaign. Problem is, if Warren is so open and woke, why was she on the wrong side of history this week? Warren skipped the MSNBC climate forum despite climate change having a disproportionate impact on poor black folks. If it affects black people, we expect candidates to show up 52 weeks out of the year.
Booker was all about the workers this week, supporting the United Automobile Workers strike (12.5 percent of African Americans are in labor unions, the largest percentage of any ethnic group in America) and rolling out a new jobs plan that would close loopholes in the gig economy and strengthen worker protections. Booker gets even more credit from our committee because he worked on the plan with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who needs all the support she can get with the white nationalist president putting a target on her back. It’s one thing to just verbally support new black members of Congress, but pushing through legislation with them is presidential.
Booker moves up this week by virtue of everyone else screwing up; plus, he got the endorsement of Harold Thompson, president of the South Carolina Conference of Black Mayors and has committed to the Second Step Presidential Justice forum at Benedict College in South Carolina next month. But dagnabbit, old man Booker with his vaudeville potty mouth might need to test his new jobs bill on his own campaign soon. Word on the street is money is running low for #TeamBooker and there have been quiet layoffs throughout the campaign.
This week, Castro pushed for D.C. statehood, which would be the largest single enfranchisement of black Americans since the 15th Amendment. He also shouted out Rep. Ilhan Omar’s daughter, Isra Hirsi—who co-founded U.S. Youth Climate Strike, a group dedicated to making sure the globe isn’t a desolate wasteland by the time Gen Z graduates from college—which makes sense, given Castro’s passion at the MSNBC climate forum. The committee has pointed out, it’s one thing to talk to black people, it’s something else to help black folks push policy. He called out Trump when the president tried to sell his border wall in Spanish and he called out Uncle Ben Carson for hating black trans people and basically just being Ben Carson. Though the biggest move Castro pulled off this week was having Cory Booker and Kamala Harris come to his defense for going after Biden in last week’s debate. Way to rally the troops, Julian! But you still drop a spot because your poll numbers are #BASURA.
Kamala Harris isn’t doing too well in the polls. She’s lost half her support since July, she’s fallen behind Mayor Pete Buttigieg in some national polls and was fifth behind Andrew Yang in a recent California primary poll. Last time the committee saw somebody slide down polls this fast was that “Twerk” video with City Girls and Cardi B. So this week, team Harris pushed all their chips into Iowa. Her campaign just hired 60 new full-time caucus staffers, and she got an endorsement from state Rep. Ross Wilburn, meaning she has two of the five endorsements from Iowa’s legislative black caucus.
Further, Harris is marching with Iowa McDonald’s workers in a fight for $15 wages, which is one of the boldest moves a black candidate can make. One in eight Americans has worked at McDonald’s at some point, including Harris (We still can’t get an accurate count of how many people have worked at McDowell’s because it always looked like there were only two guys on staff). McDonald’s is one of the biggest black employers in America and has a very powerful franchise owners association, so a protest march against Micky D’s is no small thing. Harris clearly wants that smoke—and not the flame-broiled kind. The committee approves and she moves up a spot.
Would you look at that? Mayor Pete’s support went from skim to whole milk, as this week he finally polled at a whopping 3 percent among African-American voters in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. With all this black support, Mayor Pete actually came for Elizabeth Warren’s “Medicare for all” plan, a new tactic on his part. Say it with your chest, Pete! He moves up two spots for good black polling numbers, pushing D.C. statehood and some good word of mouth after Congressional Black Caucus weekend.
But a word of caution: The South Bend chapter of Black Lives Matter just called for Mayor Pete’s resignation after he skipped out on six community meetings organized to discuss the Father’s Day shooting of Eric Logan. Worse, the Young Turks have an uncorroborated report that there was a racist conspiracy behind Buttigieg’s firing of South Bend’s first black police chief. If these stories get worse, Mayor Pete’s black honeymoon will be over faster than a South Bend internal affairs investigation.
First off, this has been a no good, very bad week for the Sanders campaign as he drops two spots. There were staff shakeups and they got out-hustled by #TeamWarren for the Working Family Party’s endorsement (which Sanders won in 2016) despite Bernie arguably having more progressive policies. Did Team Sanders take their “L” and keep it moving (like Julian Castro did)? Nope, for days, the very black WFP leadership of Maurice Williams and Nelini Stamp and the entire endorsement process has been subjected to racist attacks and threats from self-identified Bernie supporters, magazines like Jacobin and some surrogates.
And while the committee remains neutral in the latest installment of Woke-Vengers: Civil War, Sanders surrogate Shaun King questioning any organization’s transparency has more irony than Tony Stark in his Sunday best. Over 100 black leaders from BLM to Color of Change (including our own Marcus Ferrell) signed a petition condemning the racist attacks. No amount of HBCU visits can make up for the fact that Sanders supporters and some staff are routinely connected to the harassment of black activists, especially women. The committee has plenty of sources who want to go full Tekashi 6ix9ine on some of the racial dynamics in the Sanders campaign, but for now, we’ll just say this: Bernie’s slogan is “Not Me, Us.” Nah man, sometimes it’s just you. And that’s the problem.
Maybe Beto isn’t as woke as we thought. First, he joined in with Mayor Pete, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders, along with most of the mainstream white media to condemn Julian Castro for being a brown man who got too uppity with Biden. Second, despite making a big deal and tweeting support for Donald Neely, who was tied up and led through the streets of Galveston Texas by police on horseback, Beto flaked (or lied) about being available to attend a protest rally in support of Neely. Beto moves up one spot because he dropped a new innovative marijuana legalization plan that helps black folks get into the hemp business, but mostly because, as terrible as he was this week, some candidates were even worse.
The world is made up of two kinds of black people: those who believe in Corn Pop the thug and those who don’t. If you’ve not heard the ballad of Corn Pop, it was an urban Tarzan tale of ‘60s Joe Biden working at a segregated swimming pool and how, through sheer grit and whiteness, he stared down a local thug named Corn Pop and Avatar-ed his way into full-fledged respect from the black community. Is it a racist story? Yes. Is it true? Some of it probably is. Look, in 2060 Sen. Diggy Simmons will be on the campaign trail telling a story about how back in the early aughts, a thug named “Fiddy” bumped into him at a brick-and-mortar “cell phone store,” one thing led to another, Diggy said “Get the strap!” and a bunch of people yelled “World STAAAARRRR.” That story will sound just as ridiculous in the future as Biden’s story sounds to us today. Won’t mean it’s not somewhat true.
Between that and his weak sauce speech for the 56th anniversary of the Birmingham, Ala., church bombing, Biden falls in our rankings. The only reason he isn’t off the list entirely (and some committee members called for it) is that he scored two great endorsements this week from former CBC Chairs Emanuel Cleaver and G.K. Butterfield.
Tom Steyer debuts on our list because he started his campaign the right way. He hired a ton of black staff, including Malik Hubbard as his political director and Abdul Henderson as his deputy director of battleground states, and it’s paid off since he just qualified for the fourth debate. Is he just another vaguely liberal white billionaire who hates Trump and cares about climate change? More or less, but his first endorsement is from former state Rep. Harold Mitchell (D-S.C.), a black legislator who says Steyer gets it when it comes to environmental justice for black folks and that counts for something. Welcome to the list, Tom. Let’s see if you can stay here.
This week, Yang reminded us why several committee members don’t trust him. Saturday Night Live fired a new “comedian,” Shane Gillis, after it was revealed that he had made tons of racist jokes and comments, including calling Andrew Yang a “Jew Chink.” Yang jumped to Gillis’ defense, claiming he shouldn’t be fired and we need a “more forgiving and less punitive” world. Yang’s popularity with the alt-right and his desire to appease racists instead of confronting them is bad enough, but when he laced up his shoes for the oppression Olympics, we were done.
Why he felt the need to even mention anti-black racism, let alone the n-word in a discussion of anti-Asian racism was textbook model-minority pandering to white voters, intentional or not. To suggest that anti-black racism is somehow less tolerated than anti-Asian racism in Trump’s America is peak gaslighting. If you want a comparison, ask Kamala Harris; she’ll tell you. The only reason Yang didn’t get bumped off the list is because he’s moved up in every single poll and his universal basic income plan is gaining momentum. He won’t get many more chances.