Buttigieg Needs More People, Harris' Salon Game Has No Equal and Castro Needs a Refill: 2020 Presidential Black Power Rankings, Week 15

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

This week in the Power Rankings are just messy. We’re talking Real Housewives of Atlanta-TMZ-Get her, Jade-level of messy. As we round into the final pre-holiday weeks of the campaign preseason, the gap between the political haves and have nots gets bigger and the knives come out. Campaigns and their surrogates have been coming for each other publicly and privately, and the committee has had more opposition research dropped in our DMs than ever; we feel like Olivia Pope and every candidate out there is Selina Meyer.

This week has questionable firings of black staff, leaked documents, awkward defenses of Tulsi Gabbard and more. The committee is convinced that we’ll find out half of these candidates have gone full Pierre Delecto and created burner Twitter accounts for themselves just so they can attack each other. That being said: We LOVE IT.

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Black folks have a particular cultural appreciation for playing the dozens and shade, and if campaigns want to come for necks and snatch wigs in the name of distinguishing their policy goals and outlining what they will do for black voters, have at it. Just about every campaign did something this week that focused on African Americans, some in ways that they shouldn’t be proud of, and some in ways that might make them real contenders this spring. Get your popcorn ready: week 15 of the Power Rankings is going to be interesting.

This week’s big riser is Beto O’Rourke, who jumps up four spots with a few plans that we didn’t know he had in him. This week’s biggest drop is a tie between Bernie Sanders, who had this coming for a while, and Julian Castro, who continues to be a committee heartbreaker. Wondering how we calculate the black power rankings? Check out our method below.

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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: Sen. Cory Booker

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During a campaign week that was nothing but messy, Sen. Booker was Mr. Clean. The bald head, bright smile and suburban dad swag certainly helps, but Booker also stayed above the fray and made power moves that put him at the top of our rankings. Booker is as steady as 2 percent milk in the latest polls out of South Carolina, but his approval/disapproval numbers (51 vs. 11 percent) have gone up, placing him among the top four candidates. Booker also introduced his Study, Treat, Observe and Prevent (STOP) Neglected Diseases of Poverty Act, which creates a task force to look at everything from hookworm to scabies, diseases that disproportionately affect poor black folks in the South and some urban areas.

During the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum at Benedict College in South Carolina this weekend, Booker’s campaign is organizing a protest march against Donald Trump (who will be there along with most of the Democratic field). Lastly, he flipped the script on a Breitbart reporter, hoping for a “Gotcha” moment about lynching: “I don’t know if you know this, but there have been a lot of Democratic racists in the past!” THANK YOU, SENATOR! Mr. Clean polished off the competition this week; we’ll see if he can keep it shiny going forward.

#2: Sen. Elizabeth Warren

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Sen. Warren moves up one spot this week, boosted by a couple of good polls especially out of South Carolina. Biden has a 17-point lead over Warren in the Palmetto State, but she’s now the second choice of 26 percent of black voters, up from 11 percent in July. Maybe all those selfies are finally showing up on #BlackTwitter. Warren marched with the Chicago’s striking teachers this week (over 80 percent of Chicago Public Schools kids are black) and criticized the new anti-homeless legislation being proposed in Las Vegas (about 37 percent of the homeless in Nevada are African American.)

This week, Warren also engaged in the age-old white candidate campaign cliché of talking to random black men in a barbershop. While the committee appreciates the effort, apparently nobody black on Warren’s staff informed her of the perilous position of a black man getting his haircut while his barber is being engaged in conversation. One question to a barber extends the cut by about 45 minutes; two questions and you miss the rest of the workday; any question about politics and you’ve basically stolen that black man’s whole weekend. If you really care about African-American men’s employment, Senator, let that man get his hair cut first.

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#3: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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Press, press, press, press, press...Beto’s definitely needed more press; he’s finally earned some this week, and the committee has rewarded him with a jump in the polls. Beto equated the Trump administration to Nazi Germany, then doubled down on it, going back to his sincere concerns about how Trump’s racism is a danger to this country. Beto released an opioid addiction and drug decriminalization plan this week. While the national press has treated the opioid crisis like it’s only a problem for depressed white folks in Ohio, the fastest rise in death rates for opioid users is among African Americans.

Beto couldn’t stay entirely out of the dirt this week; he had to put on his cape and defend Tulsi Gabbard against Hillary Clinton’s Russian asset accusations (although quietly, it’s been reported that she said “Republicans,” not “Russians”—though at this point, is there a difference?). It’s fine to defend Gabbard against McCarthyite accusations but not mentioning her Islamophobic history and constant flirtations with the alt-right and MAGA crowd is a major oversight. Besides, on Thursday, Gabbard announced she’s not running for re-election in Hawaii, so Clinton’s prediction of a Russian or GOP-amplified third party run looks highly likely. Wrong hill to die on, Beto.

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#4: Sen. Kamala Harris

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If the entire 2020 campaign relied upon retail politics at hair salons and barbershops, I’m convinced that Kamala Harris would be the next president of the United States. She drops this week because her numbers in South Carolina have been cut in half since July, and dropped from 28 to 13 percent of the voters’ choice for second place, but her salon game is on point.

She has mastered the “I don’t like that haircut, but hurry up, we’ve got to meet your father at church” look and the ever effective “Girl, you don’t have to put up with that. I got a cousin about to finish culinary school and he’s single” leg twist under the hairdryer as well.

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This week, Harris proposed suing oil and gas companies that contribute to the climate crisis—and given that black folks are usually on the front lines of the climate crisis, that’s a good move. However, this same week, a new book comes out questioning how seriously she went after predatory banks that feasted on black wealth during her time as attorney general in California. Maybe she’ll get a chance to explain her time as AG more at the Second Step Presidential Justice forum in South Carolina. Harris has now settled into second-tier candidate status nationally, but if this week’s photos are any indication, at least her hair will always look laid.

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#5: Former Vice President Joe Biden

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“I was part of the movement to draft Joe in 2016, but he’s not the same Joe,” a campaign consultant told me this week, and the committee has to agree. This week’s polls are a mixed bag for Biden: two show him increasing his lead and one shows him seven points behind Elizabeth Warren. Which Joe Biden polls do you believe? Better question: after his flip-flop on taking PAC money this week, which Joe Biden can you believe about campaign finance? Nevertheless, the zombie campaign of Joe Biden can’t be killed and the committee has had a chance to review his new HBCU plan and it’s…not half bad. Biden is also attending the Second Step Criminal Justice Forum at Benedict College in South Carolina, showing that he at least knows he’s supposed to pretend to care about criminal justice issues.

Team Biden also threw some shade with a shave this week by noting how he is so much more comfortable around black folks in barbershops than Elizabeth Warren. The committee has no idea why this campaign week has devolved into Barber Wars: Edge Game, but Uncle Joe could do more than just show up and talk about his love for fades cuts and touchups. Almost a dozen states deny former felons professional licenses to be electricians, construction workers and yes, barbers; a prohibition that really hurts formerly incarcerated black men and women trying to get work on the outside. Maybe Uncle Joe will drop some policy on his next stop by New Cutz instead of just a photo op.

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#6: Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro

 

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Just a week after riding high, the Castro campaign had a huge drop as he announced that if he doesn’t raise about $800,000 by Halloween his campaign will be taken away by the Great Pumpkin. It’s bad enough that Castro has no loot, but in South Carolina, he’s one of three candidates, (Beto and Buttigieg are the other two) who are still unknown by 20 percent of the primary voters. Now, they tell me it never rains in Southern Carolina, but if Castro can’t break out of Twenti, Twenty, Twentey in the next few weeks, there’s a very real chance he could miss the Nov. 20 debate, which would all but end his campaign.

One high note this week is Castro sat down for an extensive interview with Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith about his First Chance plan, which focuses on a somewhat tortured definition of restorative justice but still manages to lay out some groundbreaking plans for reintegrating ex-felons into society and keeping black kids out of prison, to begin with.

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#7: Businessman Andrew Yang

 

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“I worry about racists, but I think we need to worry more about robots.” Andrew Yang, Howard University Law School, October 21.

Between Andrew Yang’s statement and Kanye crashing homecoming, I’m convinced that Howard University has developed a tolerance for political foolishness that even Shepard Smith couldn’t manage. Newsflash to Mr. Tech Genius Yang: robots are racist as hell. (Notice how R2D2 never seems to gravitate to Finn or Lando Calrissian? How the robots in The Matrix killed all the black people first? How Vision never shook hands with T’Challa in The Avengers? I rest my case!)

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Yang continues to traffic in problematic assessments on race, made a horrible flip-flop on attending the Second Step Presidential Justice Forum in South Carolina, and was way too eager to defend MAGA mouthpiece Tulsi Gabbard, yet he still moves up this week despite a lot of arguing from the committee. Why? Yang continues to gain in some key black areas. There will be a universal basic income march in Atlanta this weekend, he got a shoutout from NPR reporter Joshua Johnson (whom I’m told is my D.C. media clone, though I prefer to think of him as my evil mirror version, because of the beard). and while Yang remains at 1 percent among black voters, 13 percent are considering voting for him, 35 percent have a positive view of him and 47 percent don’t know who he is—which means according to math, Yang has greater growth potential with black voters than Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg. Yang got a little messy this week, too, trolling Castro for his lack of money and flexing on the fact that he’s all but qualified for the fourth debate. The committee may not like it or understand it, but Yang is on the move this week.

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#8: Businessman Tom Steyer

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Money can buy you love. Money can buy you happiness and money can buy you into the Black Power Rankings for week 15, as evidenced by Tom Steyer. He looks like a real-life version of the president in Watchmen, but he’s making campaign moves that can’t be denied so he’s back on the rankings and likely to stay. First, Steyer came out in favor of reparations, and we haven’t heard that one since Marianne Williamson transcended to the ethereal plane, then he’s polling at 4 percent in South Carolina ahead of Castro, Buttigieg, Beto and Amy Klobuchar, and now he’s polling at fifth in Iowa. To top it off, he’s polling at 2 percent with black voters in South Carolina. I guess we have to start taking yet another billionaire for president seriously.

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#9: Mayor Pete Buttigieg

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This is Mayor Pete’s third consecutive drop in the polls and the only reason he’s not lower is because another campaign screwed up even worse (wait for it!). This week, The State newspaper in South Carolina ran a story about a “leaked” Buttigieg focus group report that claimed the mayor’s trouble with black voters is due to black homophobia. The committee is going to let you in on a little secret: We have contacts in every single presidential campaign, as well as on the ground in early states. Almost every campaign reached out to call b.s. on the leak. Nobody on the committee believes that this report was leaked. We called several whistleblowers, two plumbers, Nene and Petey Pablo and nobody believed in this leak.

The consensus within the committee is someone on Pete’s campaign leaked the report in the hopes of hedging against a poor showing in South Carolina. It’s a much easier spin to say “black folks are just homophobes” than to admit the mayor’s terrible record on policing and criminal justice in South Bend, Ind., is what turned off black voters. Mayor Pete is on an HBCU tour in South Carolina and has more endorsements for his Douglass Plan, but the near-universal side-eye his campaign received suggests he needs way more people.

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#10: Sen. Bernie Sanders

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The Black Power Rankings take the treatment of black staffers by top campaigns seriously; #BlackStaffLivesMatter so we take time to differentiate between rumors, messy gossip and background chatter before weighing in on the rankings. So when we say the news out of the Sanders campaign was so bad this week committee members wanted to kick him off the list in protest, know that we mulled over this for a while. Most high-level presidential campaigns have relatively few senior black campaign staff and we can confirm that two of the few senior black staffers on the Sanders campaign have been moved from the inner circle.

Rene Spellman, a deputy campaign manager, has been moved out to California, which, given the primary is six months away, amounts to a demotion. Next, there is the questionable departure of another black senior campaign worker from the Sanders campaign. According to our sources, the Sanders campaign may have the same problems with sexual harassment they had in 2016, where harassers are protected and accusers and allies are marginalized or removed, especially if they’re black. Words like “betrayal,” “payoff” and “retaliation” are swirling around the Sanders headquarters and this is not the last you’ll hear about this story. But as far as the committee is concerned, the rot within the Bernie campaign can no longer be ignored.

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