OAKLAND, Calif.—Branice McKinzie walked up to a ballot drop box near the Alameda County Courthouse in downtown Oakland knowing that much of the electorate isn’t voting for Elizabeth Warren at this point, but she cast her ballot for the Massachusetts senator anyway. She praised Warren for her aggressive challenge of banks engaging in predatory lending and called her “smart as shit.”
“I think a lot of people still doubt women,” McKinzie said after dropping off her ballot Tuesday evening. “I think there are a lot of women who doubt women. The way she’s been showing up. She’s been showing up like a whiny female. It doesn’t look good on her. I think that’s how she perceived it. If I felt like she was just jumping on people and going crazy. I would not vote for mer.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders leading in the vote count so far in California against former Vice President Joe Biden. Latinx voters overwhelmingly backed Sanders, which has been a consistent theme of his victories thus far. One and three voters here in California are Latinx while one in 10 are black, according to CNN exit polling; most black people went for Biden.
But in more than a dozen interviews with black women in downtown Oakland who are casting their ballots at or around drop boxes near the Alameda County Courthouse, most of them told The Root they preferred voting for Warren but ended up picking a male candidate. The women ranged from ages 18- to 62-years-old, all of whom provided very nuanced explanations for their votes for Biden and Sanders. While Sander has garnered far greater support from younger black voters over Biden, black millennial women aren’t completely removed from the fears of their parents and grandparents.
Elo Ratliff, 31, cast her vote for Biden after leaving the courthouse around 7 p.m. after strongly considering Warren. But the need to remove Trump from office and white America’s doubt over whether a woman could do it informed her decision not to support Warren.
“She would have been my preferred choice, but I was also thinking about who would ultimately be the one who would represent us well in the Democratic Party and I don’t think she had enough to get us there,” Ratliff said. “I also like Bernie to a certain extent. But I thought Biden would be the best one to represent the Democratic candidacy and have the best chance.”
Much has been written about black women’s voting power and how South Carolina resurrected Biden’s campaign. It is as if many political observers didn’t see Biden’s new lead coming. But reporting from black reporters in the field did. The talk in states with large black voting populations was clear: let them white folks have their little say first. We’ll get the last word. And, indeed, black folks are on their way to having the last word with the vast majority of black people voting for Biden on Super Tuesday. There are a lot of primary states left to go, but the moderate white establishment is circling around Biden for a wide range of reasons. Black women, based on interviews The Root has conducted during the 2020 cycle, are paying close attention to all of this.
What is also happening is that many of the black women The Root has spoken to in South Carolina, and now Oakland, is that their desire of seeing a woman as president will have to wait. In Warren’s case, it is not for a lack of trying. There are few presidential candidates in recent memory that have actively sought out black female activists as diverse in gender and ideological outlook than Warren. Some of the top trans activists such as Ashlee Marie-Pressley, Raquel Willis and others have backed her. And maybe the most inspirational black woman in Congress, Ayanna Pressey, has been traveling the country to support her. But none of that is translating into votes.
She placed third in her own state.
The New York Times interviewed an expert on field operations who explained why she isn’t gaining support with black women on scale:
Don Calloway, a Democratic strategist specializing in field operations with black voters, said Ms. Warren’s problems winning them over threatened the viability of her campaign moving forward but should also serve as a cautionary tale: The progressive activists who have showered her candidacy with validation have a different electoral lens than the black electorate at large.
That schism is a distinction some have labeled “grass tops vs. the grass roots” — or the belief that the leaders of liberal and progressive organizations have a different political lens than their more working-class members.
Ms. Warren “did a great job of galvanizing internet-savvy, well-known personalities, but unfortunately it doesn’t look like that support has translated into populations on the ground,” Mr. Calloway said.
And while reporting has shown that, while black voters are into Pressley, they are not in Warren. And Mother Jones reports that some black female South Carolina voters and Democratic party officials felt she didn’t make enough stops in the state and that her policies were too progressive for their comfort.
Here in Oakland, black women shared similar thoughts with me. And none of them had to do with her being a woman.
“Elizabeth Warren has some of the same policies that Bernie has,” Erianna Carlisle, 18, who considered voting for Warren, said after casting her ballot. “I just never connected to her, which sucks. She’s a woman. It would be great to have a woman in office. I just never got that connection with her. I just got it with Bernie.”
It is not clear what Warren’s strategy will be moving forward. With Super Tuesday states going to Biden and Sanders, she’ll have to pretty much sweep the rest of the primary—which is very unlikely.
I struck up a conversation with Nicole Randle who drove up to a ballot drop box near the courthouse to leave her vote. She voted for Biden, but not because she was her preferred candidate. Like most of the women I spoke with, Randle said Biden was the best hope against Trump. But she prefers Warren. She mentioned her college debt from a now-defunct pro-profit university that she’s still paying off. Warren would help fix that, she told me.
“But it’s not her time,” Randle, 42, told me before telling me that she supported Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.
“Was it time for Hillary?,” I asked
“I think it was,” Randle said. “I mean, she won. She won the popular vote. I think the momentum is different. There is a shift in the climate. Back then, it was ‘Hillary can win. Hillary can win.’ And I think, just right now, they’re not gonna vote a woman in there. They’re not just gonna do that.”
“Who are the they?,” I asked.
“The majority of people,” she responded.
“White people?,” I asked.
She looked at me and nodded her head, “Yeah. Thank you.”