Beto Battles the Undead, Booker Said What He SAID and Mayor Pete’s Been Left on Read: 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings, Week 16 [Updated]

Graphic: Jim Cooke (G/O Media), Photo: Getty Images

The committee absolutely loves Halloween—and by the committee, I mean me (Dr. Johnson, politics editor of The Root), because other committee members have said they hate haunted houses and sexy nurse costumes (not to mention this ongoing battle on The Root Slack about the evils of candy corn). For political purposes, we love Halloween because it’s the end of October, when things get scary in a campaign, surprises happen, money gets funny, ghosts of old scandals appear and nightmare scenarios that seemed crazy in the light of summer are suddenly more possible in the overcast nights of the fall.

This week in the Power Rankings is no different; some candidates are starting to live out their worst nightmares, some are getting tricks while others are getting a fresh bag of circus peanuts (which is the single worst candy ever created; worse than black licorice and stale Jolly Ranchers from your teacher’s desk). While we know Halloween was yesterday, like Jason or Freddie or Bernie Sanders ads on YouTube, no matter how many times you think you’ve gotten away, it somehow keeps coming back, so we figured we could fit in a Halloween-themed Power Rankings even if it’s technically time for turkey.

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This week’s big riser? Jumping out of the shadows it’s Beto O’Rourke, who slashed his way to the top for the first time in our rankings, to the surprise of everyone. This week’s big drops into the Sunken Place come from Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, but for completely different reasons. Want to know how we make the Power Rankings? Check out our criteria 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?
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#1: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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Updated: Friday, 11/1/19, at 8:26 p.m., ET: Beto has dropped out of the race.

Earlier: Did you know that Beto O’Rourke is the political version of Van Helsing, (courtesy of Jim Carrey) the famous vampire killer who also gave us one of the worst Hugh Jackman films ever? Beto never managed to rid the world of Ted Cruz (who we’re pretty sure has no soul, even if he casts a reflection), though he did manage to jump to the top of the rankings this week.

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Beto jumped to 4 percent nationally in some polls and has moved up in New Hampshire as well. He rolled out a more detailed criminal justice plan this week, called out payday lenders that prey on black folks, gave an actual definition of transformative justice on The Daily Show, was clear and passionate in his discussion of racial justice on The Breakfast Club and had Meghan McCain shook without even being on The View (more on that later). He even called out Felicity Huffman’s weekend pass of a prison sentence, which is something that drives everyone mad. Beto is a reminder that you can never go wrong centering African-American voters when running for the Democratic nomination.

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#2: Sen. Kamala Harris

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This week, Kamala Harris moves up two spots since she had a great costume for Halloween. First, Harris is Damali Richards (What? You didn’t grow up reading about the famous badass black female vampire hunter? Shame on you!) because she basically saved the entire Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College from being a joke. Harris dropped out of the event in protest, after some rogue elements in the sponsoring 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center decided to give Donald Trump an award for criminal justice (yes, we are in the Upside Down). Her protest vanquished the 2020 sponsorship and freed hundreds of Benedict students, who were basically being held hostage in their dorms by Donald Trump.

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But she wasn’t done; Harris literally entered a haunted house by attending the Justice Votes 2020 Town Hall, which took place in the now ruinous Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, and answered questions by formerly incarcerated people. Harris was the first Democratic candidate to call out what was happening to (now former) Rep. Katie Hill as the crime of revenge porn instead of just a “scandal,” and African-American women are by far the most likely victims of revenge porn (pdf), according to recent surveys. Unfortunately, it’s not all garlic necklaces and techno music for the Harris campaign; reports of campaign layoffs and fundraising woes came out this week and it seems all but certain her last stand may come not against a slew of undead monsters but the voters in Iowa and South Carolina if things don’t improve soon.

#3: Sen. Cory Booker

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Cory Booker is that priest in the horror movie who you know isn’t going to make it. He’s too kind, too optimistic and eventually meets his doom by being eaten alive because he swears that with just a few more prayers he can save somebody who has clearly been possessed by demons, aliens or MAGAts. Booker showed the patience of Job with Meghan McCain on The View this week and was even more gracious in explaining Magic Shave Powder to a bunch of non-black women during his interview with Cosmopolitan. As a black man who shaves his head, I felt seen. He also discussed ending the “boyfriend loophole,” which sounds like a Katherine Heigl rom-com but is actually a plan to hold abusive exes and sexual partners to the same gun prohibition standards as former spouses. Black women, especially young black women, are almost three times as likely to be shot and killed by an intimate partner as white and Latinx women in America.

Booker was also one of only three Democratic candidates to attend the Justice Votes 2020 Forum in Philadelphia, and while he didn’t do a whole freestyle with host Ari Melber, we were happy to see that he passionately called out the rest of the Democratic field for skipping class. That was about as angry as you will ever see Booker, but he said what he said and he meant it. So why does Booker drop this week? His poll numbers remain flatter than vegan focaccia bread while several other lower-tier candidates saw boosts this week.

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#4: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro

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Prison is a scary place; nobody wants to be there, yet all too many black men and women are trapped there and roughly half of all horror video games have at least one grisly prison scene (The committee agreed that you can only play Silent Hill with the lights on, because the prison fights are too intense.) Initially, the committee was going to ding Castro for skipping the Justice Votes event at a condemned prison in Philadelphia, but Castro took it one step further and presented his Second Step Presidential Justice reform package to current inmates during a jail visit in Washington, D.C., this week. To keep it 100, Castro walked up in there so calm it was like he was sneaking cigarettes and baby powder to a childhood friend.

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The Castro campaign also spent most of Halloween trick-or-treating for cash to stay in the race and, as of this writing, they made it, which means the Great Pumpkin really does answer wishes. Castro is at 1 percent nationally, which is terrible, but he’s moved up to 3 percent among black voters who’d consider him for vice president and 14 percent among black voters who have even considered voting for him. Baby Steps, Mr. Secretary.

#5: Sen. Elizabeth Warren

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While some peg young Elizabeth Warren as a ringer for Maggie from The Walking Dead, the committee thinks she’s much more of a Carol-type character.

While we can’t see the senator putting down a child zombie in cold blood, we definitely saw her make some moves this week that made us shudder. What was once a gaping second to third place lead over Bernie Sanders has dwindled in recent polls, putting Warren into a virtual tie with her fellow senator. Warren is also now in a dead heat with Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders among black voters. While Warren attended the Benedict College event and spoke out on behalf of striking Chicago teachers this week, she was somewhat thin in specific black policies. The committee knows that Carol is a survivor though; maybe she just needed a quick reminder that there are still monsters out there to slay.

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#6: Businessman Andrew Yang

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Let me get this straight—an entire campaign based on the threat of evil AI taking over, that somehow becomes popular with disaffected white guys and black people, and is based on a beloved character whom everyone has fond memories of? I am describing both the Yang campaign in 2020 and Chucky in the Child’s Play movie series and I cannot figure out which one is more ridiculous. Yang racked up yet another celebrity endorsement this week when Hannibal Buress identified himself as team #YangGang, which just reinforces the committee’s belief that Buress, like 2 Dope Queens, are officially the black comedians that only white people think are funny.

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Next, Yang is literally saving white people from the alt-right lifestyle, which leads us to conclude that if all you had to do to end bigotry is to give everyone $1,000 a month, Oprah could’ve solved racism a long time ago.

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Finally, just like Chucky is a twisted, frightening but highly successful reimagining of the My Buddy dolls from the ’80s, the #YangVideoContest has successfully shown that his universal basic income plan is a centrist alt-right appealing version of an idea from the sacred cow of black Democratic politics, Barack Obama. Our sources say he’s even gotten some VP buzz in some of the campaigns and now math is on his side. The committee has finally come to accept that Chucky is not here to play; he’s here to win.

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#7: Sen. Bernie Sanders

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Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Bernie Sanders’ answer at the Benedict College Second Step Presidential Justice forum was trash. The committee knows that Sanders often wears his Bird Box blinders when it comes to intersectionality, but for any candidate to repeat the lie that “being respectful” will somehow save black lives is a smack in the face to Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson and hundreds of men, women and children that we’ll never even hear about.

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So how does Bernie move up the rankings this week? He moved up on Elizabeth Warren in the polls and had a black media blitz the likes of which we haven’t seen since FLOTUS was Becoming. Sanders told some tales from the hood that we can believe in on Desus & Mero, where he did not just talk about decriminalizing marijuana and expunging records but actively making sure that black people, who’ve suffered the most under racist drug laws, are given a stake in new legalized drug businesses.

Nina Turner, who is arguably his most effective surrogate, explained on The Breakfast Club how a Sanders presidency is specifically focused on breaking systematic racial inequality. And finally, by our count, Bernie has won the rapper endorsement sweepstakes. Bernie has endorsements from Killer Mike, Cardi B and now T.I., the king of the South. He could start his own record label, but Bernie would never make any money because he wouldn’t have the heart to screw over his artists.

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#8: Former Vice President Joe Biden

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You know how in all of those horror movies and shows parents never believe their kids? Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist and even in Stranger Things, the kids are always warning their parents of some impending doom and mom and dad are always like “OK, caaaalm down, now what’s this about a Demogorgon eating all of your classmates?” Joe Biden is the opposite of those parents. Joe Biden actually believes black people when we talk to him about racism. His answer to a student about what advice he would give his daughter if she were pulled over by the cops was heartfelt, honest and cathartic.

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Biden’s problem in 2020 will never be whether his heart is in the right place, but whether his policies are too far to the right. Biden also snagged an endorsement from Tito Brown, mayor of Youngstown, Ohio (the location of the direct-to-DVD horror classic, The Zombinator), which is good but he’s stalled out in the polls this week and is losing his grip on being competitive in Iowa.

Plus, outside of the Benedict forum, Biden was the Invisible Man when it came to dealing with black voters this week. Not the classic Ralph Ellison “Keep this boy running” Invisible Man, where he might understand the plight of internalized racism, but the terrible How are you not better than this? Invisible Man with Kevin Bacon. (Yes, it was technically Hollow Man, but I’m sure they only changed it so nobody would confuse their lousy movie with that campy syndicated Invisible Man show.)

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#9: Mayor Pete Buttigieg

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Mayor Pete’s campaign is tethered to black people. There is no single 2020 campaign more dependent on black voters to pop than Mayor Pete. He’s moved up in Iowa, is solidly ahead of Kamala Harris and has now become the darling of the centrist Democratic elites who are afraid of a failed Joe Biden campaign.

But like all tethereds, he’s spent most of the last week underground, desperately trying to build up his name recognition and popularity among black voters in South Carolina at every fish fry, HBCU and church picnic that will have him. Don’t be fooled by the racist rhetoric this week that black folks don’t like him because of his sexuality. The whole committee was sipping tea when the latest campaign reports came out from across the Democratic spectrum.

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Buttigieg’s sexuality isn’t a problem that is unique to African-American voters and his greatest stumbling blocks are his age, his poor handling of police in South Bend, Ind., and his lack of experience; not who he’s married to. He didn’t do much to change any of those things this week, so while Mayor Pete didn’t quite sink into the floor, he’s going to have to do a lot more to get out of the zero percent range with black voters.

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#10: Businessman Tom Steyer

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Do you know if you say Tom Steyer three times into a mirror and jingle a bag of change, he’ll appear at your political event? It’s totally true. Steyer was one of three Democratic candidates to show up at the Justice Votes forum in Philadelphia and he decided to show up to the Second Step forum at Benedict College as well. We’re not convinced if Steyer is actually running for president or if he’s a figment of our collective imagination as a well-meaning rich white man who wants to save us all, but for this week at least, he did more by showing up for black folks than Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard and the overachieving yoga instructor Marianne Williamson.

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