Irony: Harris, Booker and Castro Face Uphill Battle in Race for the Democratic Nod for President Despite a Diverse Field

Sens. and Democratic presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris during then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings in September 2018
Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty)

Despite fielding one of the most diverse groups of presidential candidates, based on most recent poll numbers, the Democratic Party’s frontrunners in the race for who will become the party’s presidential nominee are—perhaps not-all-that-surprisingly—all white.

One major problem, the New York Times reports, is fear of four more years of Donald Trump, with much of the Democratic voting base, even black voters, betting on it taking another white person to beat the uber-white Trump.

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And, of course, current frontrunners former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and even South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg can check the box on that front.

As presidential contender Julian Castro, the former Housing Secretary, acknowledged to the Times:

[The concept of] “electability” [is] a problem, saying that concept has created an unspoken skepticism of nonwhite candidates among Democratic voters. People with this viewpoint, he said, can sometimes see nonwhite candidates as vice-presidential options, but not best equipped to lead the party.

“In every election there’s a current, and the current this year seems to be running toward candidates that people believe can take Donald Trump on with a certain profile of voter — the white working class in the Midwest,” said Mr. Castro, whose polling support is running at about 1 percent.

And, he added, “assumptions are being made on who the best type of candidates are to do that.”

With Biden, uber-popular President Barack Obama’s No. 2, continuing to poll as black voters’ first pick, it would seem that the issue of “electability,” and assumptions concerning same, are alive and well among that bloc, as well.

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And speaking of Obama, another issue, according to the Times? None of the nonwhite candidates are Obama.

No matter their political bona fides, talent and intellect—and no matter how unfair the comparisonsneither Castro nor Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) nor Cory Booker (D-N.J.) incites the kind of passion that Obama did.

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As Theodore Johnson, who studies African-American politics at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Times:

“Their road is easier because of Obama, but their ability to secure the nomination is harder because they’re not Obama.”

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To be fair, none of the white frontrunners (save, perhaps, Sanders as the lone exception) fare so well stacked up against Obama, either. But, as the Times explains, that doesn’t matter so much when one considers a third factor hurting nonwhite candidates: race.

Even on a benign level, race still plays some role in the support garnered for leaders of the pack like Warren and Buttigieg among wealthy, educated white voters.

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As the Times points out:

Both have risen to the top tier of early-state and national polls, and both are flush with cash from a largely white donor network that has assured them of long term viability.

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All this while candidates Booker and Castro have both had to make desperate pleas of late for campaign cash to stay in the running.

And it’s only sure to get harder for low-polling Dems as the party’s rules for taking part in upcoming debates get more stringent.

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As FiveThirtyEight data shows, Harris may be the only nonwhite candidate to have a chance to make it into the December debates, based on rules regarding poll numbers, campaign cash and number of donors.

As Booker told the Times, he’s remaining hopeful but recognizes the need for having enough donor support to stay in the race.

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“I’ve had lots of crazy things said to me, like, ‘Is America ready for another black president?’” Booker said, according to the Times. “And I’m confident it’s never been asked of a white candidate, ‘Is America ready for another white president?’”

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